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The State of the Union - Labor Organizes

Page history last edited by Mr. Hengsterman 5 months, 3 weeks ago


The State of the Union - Labor Organizes [1869 to 1900]

Industrialization radically transforms the practices of labor and the condition of American working people.

But despite frequent industrial strife and the efforts of various reformers and unions, workers failed

to develop effective labor organizations to match corporate forms of business








Like anything that was "gilded" it was coated superficially with a thin layer of gold. 


Marshall Field - Founder of Chicago based department stores earned $600.00 per hour , while his department store shop girls survived on $3.00 to $5.00 per hour


Male Industrial workers earned an average annual salary of $597.00, while a female industrial worker survived on average annual salary of $314.00 


Frustration was expressed through the pages of Labor newspapers, speeches about working conditions, worker rallies, and labor strikes. They related a sharp critique of this new industrial order.







 The Strike, Robert Koehler, 1886 








Labor Movement Pre-Union Working Conditions


Wages were so low that everyone in the family had to work (men, women and children) 


Factory workers worked twelve to fourteen hours a day, six or seven days a week


Employees were not entitled to vacations, sick leave, unemployment compensation or payment for on the job injuries


Injuries occurred very frequently


Factories were dirty, poorly lit, lacked sufficient ventilation, and had dangerous equipment 


CASE STUDY:   The Scofield Mine disaster (1900); https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4lBXpQxdSM





Image result for labor cartoon 1880 to 1920







"Sweat of the laborer lubricated the vast new industrial machine. Yet the wage workers did not share proportionately with their employers in the benefits of the age of big business."







Labor Management  (Tools used by both sides)
labor unions had a difficult time achieving their goals of higher pay, shorter hours, and improved working conditions. Factory owners were strongly against the formation of unions.



A number of weak local unions appeared during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. But it was not until after the Civil War that stronger national unions were organized. These included the Knights of Labor, American Federation of Labor, and Congress of Industrial Organizations. The letter two unions eventually merged in 1955 to form the powerful AFL-CIO.

For more information about unions Early Labor Unions 





The Nation’s First Labor Conflicts and Strikes

The struggle between labor and management erupted into three bitter strikes during the late 1800’s. 


Remember from out discussion that  labor unrest was a dis-unifying element during the age of industry in America. This leads to labor conflicts 1880-1890 .These conflicts will disrupt the entire economy



start at 1:02




By the spring of 1886, the movement for an eight-hour day had grown. On May 1, the American Federation of Labor, now five years old, called for nationwide strikes wherever the eight-hour day was refused.


Terence Powderly, head of the Knights of Labor, opposed the strike, saying that employers and employees must first be educated on the eight-hour day, but assemblies of the Knights made plans to strike.


The grand chief of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers opposed the eight-hour day, saying "two hours less work means two hours more loafing about the corners and two hours more for drink," but railroad workers did not agree and supported the eight- hour movement.



On May 3, in front of the McCormick Harvester Works, where strikers and sympathizers fought scabs, the police fired into a crowd of strikers running from the scene, wounded many of them, and killed four. Spies, enraged, went to the printing shop of the Arbeiter-Zeitung and printed a circular in both English and German:




A meeting was called for Haymarket Square on the evening of May 4, and about three thousand persons assembled. It was a quiet meeting, and as storm clouds gathered and the hour grew late, the crowd dwindled to a few hundred. A detachment of 180 policemen showed up, advanced on the speakers' platform, ordered the crowd to disperse. The speaker said the meeting was almost over. A bomb then exploded in the midst of the police, wounding sixty-six policemen, of whom seven later died. The police fired into the crowd, killing several people, wounding two hundred.





Haymarket Riot (1886) 
In 1886, there was a great upheaval of labor and the Knights became involved in several May Day strikes, which included several hundred thousand workers across the country.


Homestead Strike (1892)

On the night of July 5, 1892, hundreds of Pinkerton guards boarded barges 5 miles down the river from Homestead and moved toward the plant, where ten thousand strikers and sympathizers waited. The crowd warned the Pinkertons not to step off the barge. A striker lay down on the gangplank, and when a Pinkerton man tried to shove him aside, he fired, wounding the detective in the thigh. In the gunfire that followed on both sides, seven workers were killed


Chicago Meatpacking Strike (1904)



The Great Railroad Strike of 1877






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