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During the summer, the packing houses resume full activity, and Jurgis makes more money, but not as much as he had the previous summer, because the packers take on more hands. The extra men are kept until the next slack season, a deliberate tactic for getting cheap floating labor to learn the work, so that a pool of strike breakers is prepared if the need arises. In addition, the pace of the work is speeded up, so that the men end up working at a torturous pace.
Those doing piecework find they are doing the same amount of work in a shorter time but for lesser wages. Wages in the canning factory have fallen by a full third in two years. In desperation, the canning women stage a strike, but it is broken in three days due to the "flood" of new labor.
Jurgis learns that Packingtown is not a collection of many firms, but one "big firm" called the Beef Trust, that fixes wages, working standards and prices throughout the industry.
Marija is rising again -- she has become a skilled beef trimmer and Jurgis and Ona have repaid all that they owe her. Tamoszius is also saving up and they begin dreaming once again of marriage. Marija puts her savings in the bank and then withdraws all of it in fear when there is a run on the bank. She later finds that the run was a mere rumor, caused by the arrest of a drunk near the bank. Jurgis and Ona also open a bank account and their finances become more stable. On election day, Jurgis is paid half a week's wages to sell his vote.
Winter comes again. There is a terrible blizzard, and Jurgis must carry both Ona and Stanislovas to work, but they get through it without incident. Jurgis remains confident, but one day at work, while jumping out of the way of an escaped steer, he twists his ankle. He ignores the injury but the next day the pain becomes too great to ignore. He tells the boss and the company doctor is called. Jurgis told he is probably laid up for months and the company is not responsible. The family is plunged into crisis again and begins draining their meager savings. To make matters worse, what little food they are able to afford to buy is impure and low in nutritional value. Jurgis, unable to do anything to help his family, is bitter. The only bright spot in his life is little Antanas.
To prevent future strikes, the packers hire extra workers, so that they will have a trained, surplus workforce should the need arise. The men have no choice but to train these new employees that might later take their places, for resisting will mean losing their jobs, a luxury they cannot afford. Sinclair illustrates the power that the packers have over their workers, so that instead of wages rising over the years, even absolute wages fall. For the first time in the novel, an example of an organized fight against the packers is cited. Interestingly, it is the women who are in the forefront of the struggle.
The reader also learns about the functioning of cartels. The Beef Trust controls the entire functioning of Packingtown. A new entrant to the system of "democracy," Jurgis sells vote unthinkingly. He accepts the exploitation of his vote by political bosses who are actually enemies of the workmen, quite unquestioningly. Of course, even questioning would be totally fruitless.
Conquering the blizzard is a major victory for Jurgis. "When it was over the soul of Jurgis was a song, for he had met the enemy and conquered, and felt himself the master of his fate." While Jurgis exultant at winning the battle with the first bad winter storm, the reader acutely feels the hollowness of this victory over nature. Jurgis will not triumph over the man-made blizzards and storms in store for him. His injury is the beginning of his downfall. The strong, optimistic Jurgis of the past is replaced by a shadow of a man who feels that, "strive as he would, toil as he would, he might fail, and go down and be destroyed." Jurgis experiences a rude shattering of illusions, first about first about Packingtown and now about his own invincibility and strength. His worst nightmares have come true.
The only joy in his life is his son. Through Jurgis' interaction with Antanas, Sinclair contrasts between the real, venal adult world and the pure, beautiful world of the child. In seeing Antanas smile, he feels that "such a world could not but be good at the heart of it." Later in the novel, Antanas will play a large role in keeping Jurgis going when he otherwise feels that all hope is lost.