In the end it was through a newspaper that he got a job, after nearly a month of seeking. It was a call for a hundred laborers, and though he thought it was a “fake,” he went because the place was near by. He found a line of men a block long, but as a wagon chanced to come out of an alley and break the line, he saw his chance and sprang to seize a place. Men threatened him and tried to throw him out, but he cursed and made a disturbance to attract a policeman, upon which they subsided, knowing that if the latter interfered it would be to “fire” them all.
An hour or two later he entered a room and confronted a big Irishman behind a desk.
“Ever worked in Chicago before?” the man inquired; and whether it was a good angel that put it into Jurgis’s mind, or an intuition of his sharpened wits, he was moved to answer, “No, sir.”
“Where do you come from?”
“Kansas City, sir.”
“No, sir. I’m just an unskilled man. I’ve got good arms.”
“I want men for hard work—it’s all underground, digging tunnels for telephones. Maybe it won’t suit you.”
“I’m willing, sir—anything for me. What’s the pay?”
“Fifteen cents an hour.”
“I’m willing, sir.”
“All right; go back there and give your name.”
So within half an hour he was at work, far underneath the streets of the city. The tunnel was a peculiar one for telephone wires; it was about eight feet high, and with a level floor nearly as wide. It had innumerable branches—a perfect spider web beneath the city; Jurgis walked over half a mile with his gang to the place where they were to work. Stranger yet, the tunnel was lighted by electricity, and upon it was laid a double-tracked, narrow-gauge railroad!
But Jurgis was not there to ask questions, and he did not give the matter a thought. It was nearly a year afterward that he finally learned the meaning of this whole affair. The City Council had passed a quiet and innocent little bill allowing a company to construct telephone conduits under the city streets; and upon the strength of this, a great corporation had proceeded to tunnel all Chicago with a system of railway freight-subways. In the city there was a combination of employers, representing hundreds of millions of capital, and formed for the purpose of crushing the labor unions. The chief union which troubled it was the teamsters’; and when these freight tunnels were completed, connecting all the big factories and stores with the railroad depots, they would have the teamsters’ union by the throat. Now and then there were rumors and murmurs in the Board of Aldermen, and once there was a committee to investigate—but each time another small fortune was paid over, and the rumors died away; until at last the city woke up with a start to find the work completed. There was a tremendous scandal, of course; it was found that the city records had been falsified and other crimes committed, and some of Chicago’s big capitalists got into jail—figuratively speaking. The aldermen declared that they had had no idea of it all, in spite of the fact that the main entrance to the work had been in the rear of the saloon of one of them.