American Labor Movement: Development Of Unions

This essay has a total of 2522 words and 9 pages.

American Labor Movement: Development Of Unions

The American Labor Movement of the nineteenth century developed as a result of the
city-wide organizations that unhappy workers were establishing. These men and women were
determined to receive the rights and privileges they deserved as citizens of a free
country. They refused to be treated like slaves, and work under unbearable conditions any
longer. Workers joined together and realized that a group is much more powerful than an
individual when protesting against intimidating companies. Unions, coalitions of workers
pursuing a common objective, began to form demanding only ten instead of twelve hours in a
work day. Workers realized the importance of economic and legal protection against the
powerful employers who took advantage of them. (AFL-CIO American Federalist, 1)The
beginnings of the American Labor Movement started with the Industrial Revolution. Textile
mills were the first factories built in the United States. Once factory systems began to
grow, a demand for workers increased. They hired large amounts of young women and children
who were expected to do the same work as men for less wages. New immigrants were also
employed and called "free workers" because they were unskilled. These immigrants poured
into cities, desperate for any kind of work.(Working People, 1)Child labor in the
factories was not only common, but necessary for a family's income. Children as young as
five or six manned machines or did jobs such as sweeping floors to earn money. It was
dangerous, and they were often hurt by the large, heavy machinery. No laws prevented the
factories from using these children, so they continued to do so. (AACTchrNET,
1)"Sweatshops" were created in crowded, unsanitary tenements. These were makeshift
construction houses, dirty and unbearably hot. They were usually formed for the
construction of garments. The wages, as in factories, were pitifully low, no benefits were
made, and the worker was paid by the number of pieces he or she completed in a day.
Unrealistic demands were put on the workers who could barely afford to support their
families. (1)The United States had the highest job-related fatality rate of any other
industrialized nation in the world. Everyone worked eighty hours or more a week for
extremely low wages. Men and women earned twenty to forty percent less than the minimum
deemed necessary for a decent life. The number was even worse for children. (Department of
Humanities Computing, 2) Often workers would go home after a long day and have to continue
work on an unfinished product, which they had to return to the factory in the morning.
Their jobs were never finished, and they barely had any time to rest. (Working People, 1)
These men, women, and children lived in dilapidated tenements. People lived and worked in
unhealthy environments in poverty with little food. (Working People, 1) The country was
growing and its economy was rising, but its people were miserable. Technological
improvements continually reduced the demand for skilled labor. Yet, eighteen million
immigrants between 1880 and 1910 entered the country eager for work. With an abundance of
new immigrants willing to work, and no laws protecting a worker's rights, businesses
disregarded the lives of the individuals. (Department of Humanities, 1) This began to
change with the formation of National Unions, collaborations of trade unions created to be
even more effective than the local unions. (Working People, 1)The National Trades' Union,
formed in 1834, attempted to improve the current working conditions, but failed due to the
financial panic three years later. (AFL-CIO American Federationalist, 1) The National
Labor Union in 1866 managed to establish an eight hour work day in 1868 for federal
employees. However, it fell apart once their leader had died in 1873 and an economic
depression swept across the nation. (1)The first large national labor organization to
become popular was the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor. It was founded in
1869 by garment workers in Philadelphia who believed that one union of skilled and
unskilled workers should exist. The union was originally a secret, but later was open to
all workers, including blacks, women and farmers. Five hundred thousand workers joined in
a year. Their goals were an eight-hour work day, a minimum wage, arbitration rather than
strikes, health and safety laws, equal pay for equal work, no child labor under the age of
fourteen, and government ownership of railroads, telegraphs and telephones. However, the
Knights of Labor was a relatively weak organization, and eventually fell apart.
(www.planetpapers.com/ Assets/306.shtml, 2)In 1886, the American Federation of Labor (AF
of L) was formed and replaced the Knights of Labor. Its leader was former cigar union
official Samuel Gompers who only wanted to focus on skilled workers.
(www.planetpapers.com/Assets/306.shtml, 2)The founders were quoted as saying, "the various
trades have been affected by the introduction of machinery, the subdivision of labor, the
use of women's and children's labor and the lack of an apprentice system so that the
skilled trades were rapidly sinking to the level of pauper labor. To protect the skilled
labor of America from being reduced to beggary and to sustain the standard of American
workmanship and skill, the trade unions of America have been established." (AFL-CIO
American Federationalist, 1) The AF of L was a conglomeration of twenty-five unions that
included three hundred thousand workers working for increasing wages, reducing hours, and
improving working conditions. (AFL-CIO American Federationalist, 2)Gompers believed that
everyone should receive equal pay for equal work, and that everyone's rights should be
protected. He also thought the unions should be primarily concerned with the day-to-day
welfare of the members and should not become involved with politics. He also thought that
socialism would not succeed in the United States. "Bread and butter" unionism was the term
given to his philosophies that higher wages and fewer working hours could achieve the goal
of a better life for the working people. (www.planetpapers.com/Assets/306.shtml,
2)Laborer's goals and the unwillingness of capital to grant them resulted in many violent
labor conflicts and strikes. The first of these occurred with the Great Rail Strike of
1877. Rail workers all over the United States went on strike due to a ten percent pay
reduction. (www.planetpapers.com/Assets/306.shtml, 2) Rioting and destruction of several
cities surfaced with the efforts to stop the strike. Federal troops had to be sent in at
several locations to end the strike such as Baltimore, Maryland; Chicago, Illinois;
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Buffalo, New York; and San Francisco, California. (Department of
Humanities, 2)The Haymarket Square incident took place nine years later in 1886. On May 1,
many workers struck for shorter hours. A group of radicals and anarchists became involved
in this campaign. Two days later, a death occurred from shooting during a riot in the
McCormick Harvester plant in Chicago when police arrived and tangled in the chaos. On May
4, a bomb exploded in Haymarket Square during a meeting called to discuss the events of
the preceding day. (James Connolly Society, 1) Nine people died, including eight police
officers, and some sixty were wounded. (Department of Humanities, 2)The next riots came in
1892, at Carnegie's steel works in Homestead, Pennsylvania. The company hired three
hundred Pinkerton detectives to break a strike by the Amalgamated Association of Iron.
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