Industrialization in the 19th century made production easier, quicker and inexpensive for employers. I believe that industrialization allowed employers to abuse American and immigrant workers in many ways.
Workers were exposed to hazardous environments. Facilities lacked fire extinguishers. These facilities also locked emergency exits. An example of unsafe workplaces was the NYC Triangle Shirtwaist Company (1911). This factory caught a fire and killed 146 workers including men, women, and children. Many of them had been trapped inside the burning building because management had locked the emergency exits to prevent unauthorized absences. Most accidents were caused by machines. Employers failed to provide safety gear to protect workers from getting hurt. Workers were paid low wages with an annual income of approximately $500 a year. The average workday consisted of 10 to 12 hours with a six day work week. Employers did not provide any medical coverage. In the event an employee became ill and unable to work they were immediately terminated.
The Labor Contract Law permitted employers to recruit immigrant workers and pay for their passage in advance and deduct the amount later from their wages. This law made wages for unskilled immigrant workers lower than the wages for unskilled American citizens. Therefore immigrants would be making enough just to survive. As a result of the low wages, immigrant workers were replacing citizen workers.
Women and children were paid the lowest wages compared to men. Most women were assigned to work with unskilled machine labor, textile industries, and domestic services. While children worked performing field duties. The remaining jobs were done by men such as, farming and mining. Children were targeted employees in factory work since they were quick, and easier to manipulate.
Laborers attempted to fight back against harsh working conditions by creating national unions. The Molly Maguire’s were one of the first militant labor organizations in the 1870’s who used violence and murder in their battles with employers. The Molly Maguire’s battles were over workday hours, benefits, and working conditions. The Knights of Labor was the first labor organization that was genuinely open to all workers except lawyers, bankers, liquor dealers, and profit gamblers. The Knights of Labor fought for an 8 hour workday and the abolition of child labor. The Knights wanted to replace the wage system with a new cooperative system in which workers would themselves control a large part of the company. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was another association who represented mainly skilled workers. The AFL main objectives were wages, work hours, and working conditions.
Despite the creation of labor organizations and unions, employers failed to accommodate workers needs . In the battle for power within the emerging industrial economy, almost all the advantages seemed to lie with employers and the government. Thus, only a few battles were won in the 19th century against these large cooperate organizations.