Thursday, June 9, 2011

Changes in the Status and Conditions of American Workers from 1865 to 1920

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Changes in the Status and Conditions of American Workers from 1865 to 10

Overreaching Themes throughout the text

The shift from a traditional working society to an industrial society

The struggle of labor unions to promote change in labor practices

Custom Essays on Changes in the Status and Conditions of American Workers from 1865 to 1920

The effects that the law had on workers, employers, and labor unions

Key Events portrayed throughout the text

The actions of the Molly Maguires

The great immigration waves into the United States

The Taylorist movement

The Rise of the National Labor Union (NLU)

The rise of the American Federation of Labor (AFL)

Creation of the National War Labor Board

In the years following 1865, there was a great shift towards a non - agrarian based economy. This affected industry in a number of ways. Due to this shift away from farming, there was a large influx of workers to the factories. All of the industrial work that was available was not just attractive to the workers already living in the country, but it was also attractive to people overseas looking to improve their quality of life. The four great waves of immigration occurred in the following periods, 184 - 57, 1878 - , 188 - 114, and 11 - 11. The largest mass of people came in the years following 180. Immigrants that came were from areas dotted all over the European map. There was a large demand for workers, so immigration laws did not place many restrictions on people coming to the United States as they do now. America had been considered a melting pot, but it was never mingled together into one undistinguishable mass, Dubofsky notes. He is simply stating the fact that there were always tensions between the various ethnic subdivisions.

This new breed of industrialism that the country was seeing was different than in past years. Historians state that industrialization caused the deskilling of many of the nation’s trade based workers, and, in a sense this did occur. Home life and job life had once been interrelated, but with the dawn of the twentieth century, boundaries had been established that separated these once interrelated elements. The common laborer now reported to their boss, something that was not the usual scenario in previous years. Conditions were bleak for many people. There were significant wage increases in the years between 1860 and 180. Wages rose approximately 50 percent in these years, which is one of the largest increases in United States history. The average daily earning went from one dollar in 1860, to nearly one dollar and fifty cents in 180. The number of hours worked per day fell approximately seven percent, which rounded out the average working day to ten hours. Although the decrease in hours worked was miniscule, it still showed the shift in the way working conditions were going. The years after 180 did not show as dramatic an increase in wage growth, partially due to the first world war, and partially due to increasing prices of goods for domestic consumers during the war period.

Overall, the period from 1865 to 10 paved the way to normalcy for working conditions in the 10’s. Normalcy was not quite what people would consider normal today, but by the standards of the early twentieth century, a certain balance had been created. The shift from the agrarian and trade based economy to the newer industrial economy was not something that was easily accomplished. People struggled for the grounds that were gained. These can be seen in the other overreaching themes contained within the text.

Labor unions in the mid to latter years of the nineteenth century to the early years of the twentieth century provided help and strife to the laboring class. The labor unions took on new approaches to getting what they wanted. Nationwide unions were established, as well as local unions, and secret labor societies. Some unions were violent in their approach, and some used peaceful methods to gain leads in establishing workers rights.

Unions had first begun in the latter years of the eighteenth century. They started out as small local groups that tried to bring together workers that were unified because of similar crafts. They did not play as substantial a role as unions did in the post Civil War period, but they did do their best to enhance workers rights and eliminate any bad blood between neighboring craftsmen. The National Labor Union was founded in the year 1866 with the intent to make workers come to terms with the modern issues of the day, such as the role of black labor in society, the spectrum of women’s right, and the need for an eight hour work day. It originated as a non-capitalist utopian society that had the ideal that all men should be equal. The NLU failed to address the issues that is stated were of the utmost importance. It’s leadership became extremely stagnant and it’s initial causes for formation could no longer be seen in it’s day to day workings. This is why the NLU failed not many years after its emergence.

The Molly Maguires were a group of Irish Americans who emerged in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal regions. They formed a secret society, that was similar to an underground labor union, that used violent means to achieve their goals. The Molly Maguire’s had murdered police, federal agents, and mine attendants. They reached the peak of their power in 1875 when they successfully organized a public labor union. Once the union was organized, they successfully carried out a strike. The owner of the Reading Railroad, Franklin Gowen, had a vested interest in the Northern Pennsylvania mining industry. He hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to compile evidence against the Molly Maguires. Due to the information compiled from the spying efforts, ten Molly Maguires were hanged. This is one of Dubofsky’s key examples of the use of violent means to improve working conditions.

Another labor union that was once a secret society was the Knights of Labor. The Knights were not so much a labor union as they were a reform society. They started secretly in the Philadelphia - Camden region and emerged nationally in 1878. The Knights were fairly insignificant in the beginning of their time, but this changed during the March of the Order of the Knights of Labor. Historians note that something like this had not been seen. The March took place to strike against railway building enterprises in the southwest. The march was a success in that it raised union membership substantially and provided a small labor victory over Jay Gould’s railway building empire in the South. They struck a second time on Jay Gould’s enterprise, but this attempt was not successful. The Knights of Labor collapsed for a number of reasons, but the main reason was the lack of leadership, and the support from the industrial heartland which it once thrived on.

Samuel Gompers is one of the key figures of American labor history. He, along with P.J. McGuire, founded the American Federation of Labor. The AFL was run much differently than the Knights of Labor. This is the reason why the AFL was much more successful than it’s counterpart, the Knights of Labor. Besides the fact that the AFL had an insightful leader, Samuel Gompers, the AFL served the interests of it’s member’s rather well, something the Knights of Labor had failed to do. The AFL’s goals lied within the improvement of working conditions, such as higher wages, shorter hours, and greater freedoms. Gompers did not choose to align himself with any socialist theories, which he felt could harm the greater interests of the AFL. The AFL and the Knights of Labor had a common bond in their lack of financial support.

Another movement towards labor reforms was seen in the thoughts of Frederick W. Taylor. Taylor’s beliefs differed from that of his counterparts that were involved with labor unions. Taylor did not believe in unions. He believed that higher wages for workers would make them give up their want for control in work habits. This satisfied both employers and employees in Taylor’s eyes. Many analysts stated that this made the worker into some kind of robot. It truly took away any human aspect that any worker was considered to have. Taylor’s way of thinking did make sense in efficiency standards, but it did dull the efforts put forth by the many that struggled to gain worker rights in the years previous.

As a whole, the labor unions did make a difference in working conditions. Their main weapons were the strike and the lockout, which were not one hundred percent effective. Between the years 1881 and 180, approximately ,668 strikes had occurred. The employer’s took different means to stop the striking, such as the use of strikebreakers, workers that had no union connections that would work in place of the workers that were striking. These means were sometimes successful, but they never truly provided the efficiency that the striking workers could provide. Racial tensions within unions was also a problem that was never fully solved. Some labor union leaders saw no part for African American workers in unions and others did. Even if African American workers were in unions, it caused tensions between the whites and other immigrants that were in the unions. Racial tensions never did cease, as was seen in the case of the Chicago Race Riots . Employers often pitted black workers against white workers to stop striking and lockouts.

As the years passed, national and local unions thrived and failed. Some unions such as the AFL managed to stay organized into the 10’s. The time of the great war came and it appeared that all unions were generally uniform in their cause. The unions no longer carried any utopian overtones that had hindered developments in the past. The fight for an eight hour work day remained apparent in all unions. The fight for increase in wages was also something that was seen in most unions.

The United States entrance into the World War caused changes in many of the labor happenings of the time. Samuel Gompers was appointed a position in a national office. Woodrow Wilson, the president during this period, saw the need for reforms in labor. Violence was being used to suppress strikes in the copper regions in the Southwest. The striking was truly hurting the economy at this time because copper was extremely important for the war effort. In the last year of the war, Wilson created the National War Labor Board. In exchange for the promise of no striking, Wilson would grant the eight hour work day, fixed wages in accordance with the locality, equal pay for women, and the right to join a union. The board went defunct ten months after the war ended. The board went defunct at a time when it was needed most. The National War Labor Board had promised so much for the common laborer.

Many individuals dedicated their whole life to fighting for the labor cause. It was a worthy and just cause that has impact on people living today. The powers that were used in the Industrialist period, such as the strike, are still used today. There are no longer riots along with the strikes, or the use of real means of violence against our employers. Uniformity exists today in working conditions. There has been the establishment of a minimum wage, the eight hour work day, and workers rights. Unions are still in existence today, some having more bearing than others, and they no longer embody any form of utopian ideals. They strictly bargain for workers rights. Workers have always struggled, whether they were self employed, a farmer, or working under a boss. Work will always have to be done, but it is in the manner in which it is regulated that affects the whole of society.

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