American Labor Unions Essay, Research Paper
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. Workers realized the importance of economic and legal protection against the powerful employers who took advantage of them.
Technological improvements continually reduced the demand for skilled labor. The evidence document D provides confirms the idea; technology did improve to the extent that “100 men are now able to do what it took 300 or 400 men.” Yet, millions of immigrants entered the country between 1880 and 1910 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. This began to change with the formation of National Unions, collaborations of trade unions created to be even more effective than the local unions.
The National Labor Union in 1866 managed to establish an eight hour work day in 1868 for federal employees. However, it fell apart in 1873 and an economic depression swept across the nation. 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. Their goals were an eight-hour work day, a minimum wage, arbitration rather than strikes, health and safety laws, equal pay for equal work, and no child labor under the age of fourteen, However, the Knights of Labor was a relatively weak organization, and eventually fell apart.
In 1886, the American Federation of Labor (AF of L) was formed and replaced the Knights of Labor. Its leader was Samuel Gompers who only wanted to focus on skilled workers. 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. Gompers did testify before a House committee on labor in 1899 that the strikes were necessary (doc I). “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. It is apparent that after the formation of labor unions that the average workdays improved. The wages increased, while the hours decreased (doc A).
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. 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. The editorial is an account of the happenings at on of the many railway strikes. The author describes the strike as “hopeless”, but later says the strikers have “the sympathy of a large part of the community in which they live (doc B).”
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. On May 4, a bomb exploded in Haymarket Square. Many people died, including eight police officers, and about sixty were wounded. The coroner s list illustrates the horrible aftermath after the violent riots (doc G). The fact that many o f those killed were trying to quell the riot, heightens the disconsolation.
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 Association of Iron. Steel and tin workers were fired upon and ten were killed. The National Guard was called in to resolve the situation. Non-union workers were hired and the strike was broken. Unions were not allowed back into the plant until 1937. Many companies only hired workers that signed oaths of loyalty, promising not to involve in unions. The Western Telegraph Company, along with Carnegie Mills, required the contracts.
Two years later, in 1884, a strike in the Pullman Palace Car company came about as a result of wage cuts. The American Railway union joined the strike, and much of the country s rail system was not running. Over three thousand men were trusted by General Richard Olney to keep the rails open. The federal court gave a court order against union interference with the trains since they were an important and necessary vehicle in transportation, and the strike was eventually broken.
The purpose and philosophy of a union, that a group is more powerful than any individual, has not changed throughout time. Americans are still fighting for what they believe in. They have been since the development of the country. Americans have realized that working together in unison is important for achieving their goals. The country would not have survived if the people had not compromised and “shared the wealth”.