‘Making Fruit Jars in Oklahoma’ by Oran Burk from the International Socialist Review. Vol. 15 No. 10. April, 1915.

In the hands of Capital something as innocuous-sounding as make jars for fruit becomes a nightmare of extreme heat, poison gasses, and the super exploitation of children. Oran Burk reports from Oklahoma.

‘Making Fruit Jars in Oklahoma’ by Oran Burk from the International Socialist Review. Vol. 15 No. 10. April, 1915.

DOWN in Oklahoma things have been changing just as they have in the old capitalist East. In one place there is a glass fruit jar factory, where sweat shop workers are produced as a by-product and little children are taken from the schools and taught to labor.

It is interesting to visit the batchroom, where the soda ash, sand, lime, vitriol and other ingredients are mixed before being fed to the tank. You have to step carefully, the men say, for the ash soda has been known to eat a man’s flesh to the bone. I saw a man last year who had worked a couple of weeks unloading soda ash. One day he worked while the wind blew the soda ash back into his face. He looked like a corpse when I saw him and did not recover for some time. These men get $2.00 a day.

Glass plant in Salpulpa, Oklahoma, c. 1920.

The tank into which this mixture is fed is fired by natural gas from gas wells near Sapulpa. The compound is shoveled into the tank by hand. From the tank the white hot mixture is run off into machines containing jar molds, which revolve automatically and perform all the work except opening and closing the molds. The molds are operated by compressed air.

A gatherer draws a lump of melted glass out of the tank through a small round hole by means of a rod with a wooden handle and a round-edged, flat knob on the other end. He drops the lump into a mold. The machines revolve this under a plunger that makes a hole in it when the machine shoves it along under a pipe that blows out the hot glass to fit the mold.

Again the machine pushes the mold to the “turn-out” boy, who opens the mold, lifts the jar out with an iron fork and deposits it on a carrying pan. As soon as the jars have partially cooled they are again transferred, by boys, to an endless chain moving table that bears them through a gas fire and out to the cooler air, thus tempering them so they will not break easily.

The gatherers are paid 18 cts. per 100 jars and the “turn-out” boys and carriers receive $1.50 for eight hours’ work. These automatic machines never stop from 3 :00 p.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Monday.

The layer is run by an electric motor receiving its power from the Sapulpa plant a mile and one-half distant. One man removes the jars and three men sort them.

From the “sorters” the truckers remove the boxes packed by the sorters. These men receive 17 cts. per hour for a twelve-hour day. There are only· two shifts-night and day.

The box-makers are girls. The boxes are shipped flat and joined and made up by them. They receive 3 cts. a hundred for pasting on bottoms and making the body of the boxes.

After the jars are put into the boxes, which have separate compartments for each vessel, they are sent to the capping department.

The Oklahoma law is supposed to prohibit boys and girls under sixteen from working in factories, but here; as elsewhere, the law is only used when convenient to the capitalist class, and evaded at other times.

The manufacturers come to Oklahoma because they can get cheaper fuel and cheaper labor power than elsewhere. Here no concern is given the working human beings, neither men, women or children. They are burned out, or burned up, just like so many feet of gas, and the market is, thus far, still unexhausted.

A system that throws men and women on the scrap heap in a few years cannot long endure, and the sooner it is overthrown the better. Year after year the working class mothers bear weaker and weaker children, until now thousands of the Southern children are dying every year from pellagra, the new Poverty Disease- the disease that comes from INSUFFICIENT nourishment, or from misproportioned rations. Doomed to early deaths are the children of the South, and doomed to be born into a world that cares only to exploit them. Meanwhile Margaret Sanger goes to jail for teaching mothers how to prevent conception.

The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v15n10-apr-1915-ISR-riaz-ocr.pdf

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