Labor Movement

In the years after the American Civil War, the rapid process of industrialization saw an extreme need for a labor force that led to a development of the largest social group at the time – the working class. The workforce was comprised of people of different races, genders, and ages but only white male skilled workers could rely on a salary that would support their families.

Those people that were underpaid or struggled to find jobs reevaluated their artisan republican beliefs as they found it impossible to each their dreams to become their own masters one day. Only skilled and mostly white male workers enjoyed the ideal promoted by Artisan Republicanism because they had a better chance of getting a well-paid job or operate a successful business of their own. People of all ethnicities and ages grew old of the lack of the federal government involvement and decided to take action into their own hands by forming trade unions beginning in 1827.

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By the decade after the Civil War, the problems faced by workers were growing still, and more national responses were developing. The Great Upheaval of 1877, a series of strikes and boycotts by railroad workers throughout the nation, sparked the coming of the “labor question” which, at its core challenged society to rethink the meaning of the rights held by workers. Although the late nineteenth century was only a start of a long and oftentimes lethal fight, workers demands for changes such as a shorter-hour work day, an equal pay, and a right to equality of employment have become fundamentals of a modern understanding of a democratic society.

Nowadays, employees are promised a minimum wage, welfare support and employment benefits if they lose their bob. However, things were different in the late nineteenth century, when the jobs were scarce and the unemployed were not supported by the federal government. A rapid industrial growth in the US during the sass attracted various groups of immigrants from Ireland, China, Germany, Italy, and Slavic countries seeking job opportunities and hoping to escape religious and other prosecutions in their home countries.

However, they were discriminated against by their employers who were unwilling to pay unskilled and non-English speaking errors a fair wage; these men and women were also at times unwelcome by the American citizens who feared to lose their already low-paid jobs. The wage system helped the industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie to raise their profits by cutting their factory workers’ wages due to a lack of skills, gender, age, or ethnicity. For instance, a skilled white male worker could make more than $800 a year compared to the $350 an unskilled worker had to support his family with (Rosenstein, p. 7). The majority of the working class families old not survive on those miserable wages and were forced to send their women and children to work. Organizations, such as the Knights of Labor fought for the restoration of wage cuts. Terrace Powdery, the activist and the leader of the Knights of Labor believed that the wage system should be abolished (Rosenstein, p. 94). The Knights of Labor not only fought against an unequal pay, but also included African Americans as their members.

African Americans were harshly discriminated when it came to receiving jobs, but they also fought for their rights by organizing strikes and boycotts. In 1 887, 10,000 black workers of sugar plantation organized a strike for higher wages (Rosenstein, p. 123). The inequalities in social status, race, and ethnicity strongly affected the inequalities in pay labor workers received even though everyone worked equally hard and dangerous jobs risking their lives every day just to have enough money on bread and minimum clothing.

The Knights of Labor were one of the biggest and most important unions during the 1 sass and 1 8805 to negotiate American workers’ rights for equal pay, but their vision was very contradicting and confusing for many members. The Knights of Labor supported outdated standards promoted by Artisan Republicanism which was a backwards and unrealistic thinking in the times of rapid changes brought by the industrialization. Their demands for higher wages contradicted their republicanism views of the abolishment of the wage system.

It was impossible for the Knights of Labor to succeed because they were very hesitant about what they wanted, and because of their hypocritical policies, such as an exclusion of Asian people even though the union promoted diversity. Unlike the Knights of Labor, women had a very regressive vision of what an American citizenship should be like. Women in the late nineteenth century were one of the biggest minority groups. No matter of their race or nationality they all had very low chances of getting hired and even those who were a part of the labor force got paid half of their male co-workers’ wages (Rosenstein, p. 7). Not only were women discriminated by the factory employers, but also were not taken seriously by the labor movement organizations. It was as if women were fighting their own war where they had to organize movements separate from those of trade ions. In 1 881 African American washerwomen in Atlanta organized a two- week strike demanding a better pay (Rosenstein, p. 92). The term “labor feminism” was born when the Knights of Labor began to accept female members to diversify their union (Rosenstein, p. 99).

It has become more commonly acceptable for women to be in the labor movement. One fourth of the Farmers Alliance, an organized agrarian movement, were women. Women activists such Mary Elizabeth Lease and Betty Nun Gay inspired other workers with their speeches and ideas and gave other women hope and understanding that one day they might have equal rights to those of men. Women’s fight for suffrage and the equality rights influenced the labor movement to form a new Ideal of the American citizenship and inspired people to think progressively into the future.

The labor movement’s fight for a higher standard of the American citizenship was mostly concerned with male population. Although women had a long road ahead of them before they could be seen equal to men, women’s role in labor movement was very significant to the meaning and understanding of today’s American citizenship. The industrial workers’ day lasted ten hours on average and included tenuous and physically enduring labor. The workplace conditions were quite unfavorable and caused a lot of illnesses, injuries and sometimes deaths.

The workers were not covered by any insurance and were not provided with the necessary medical help. Wealthy capitalists explained the working class’ lifestyle with the Social Darwinism theory. They believed it was natural for most people to suffer and live in poverty because only the fittest?’ could make it to the top. The railroad workers’ job was the most dangerous. During 1 881, 30,000 railroad workers were killed or injured on the job (Rosenstein, p. 95). Furious by their working conditions and the lack of pay, railroad workers began a series of violent strikes against railroad companies.

The movement originated in West Virginia in 1877 and it was named the Great Upheaval. Although the strikers did not accomplish any of their goals, the Great upheaval was a very significant moment in the labor movement development because it was the first national movement. For decades, labor organizations advocated their needs for a shorter workday. The eight-hour movement’s slogan “Eight Hours for What We Will” expressed workers’ frustration with not having any leisure time or time to enjoy activities outside of work.

Activist Albert Parsons led the eight-hour day parade in Chicago that ended with a death of a policeman at the Homemaker bomb explosion which made a lot of people angry with trade unions and ended any discussion of making a workday shorter. The eight-hour movement was significant to the Americans’ understanding of what a full citizenship means to them. Workers demanded shorter hours not only because they were exhausted, but also because they believed that in order for them to feel like a full member of society they needed to pursue other dreams or goals that did not involve their factory jobs.

People wanted extra work-free hours to enjoy doing things that gives them the sense of being different and unique. “Eight Hours for What We Will” campaign expressed people’s desire for their citizenship to provide them with an opportunity to become anything. Big industrial companies saw labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor and the Farmers Alliance as a threat to their profitability. Labor movements cost the industrialists a lot of money when they refused to work by stalling the production of manufactured goods or by blowing up factory machines or train trucks.

Employers around the country resisted the labor movement development by refusing to hire and firing members of trade unions. Sometimes, they hired spies to sabotage organized movements and protests. However, there was nothing the capitalists could do to stop the labor movement from developing because all members, no matter of their ethnicity, gender or social status, had two big things in common, they all had to perform hard labor and were paid according to the wage system.

They all despised the tyrants they worked for. The industrialization created new social classes defined by a drastically different distribution of wealth, such as working class and wealthy capitalists. The capitalists were interested in increasing their profits at the cost of their company workers and such exploitation led to the forming of labor movement organizations to help people fight their employers. Although the social classes had different interests, they depended on one another.

During the rise of industrialism the working men realized that in capitalism only very few prosper and the rest of the population lives and works so the government officials and the industrialists can live lavishly. Through the labor movement the working class generated their understandings of what was wrong with American society and how no middle class worker could ever become a master of their own no matter how hard they worked. Many supported new ideas of progressivism, a theory that the federal government should be expansible for regulating nations’ social, economic, and political issues (Rosenstein, p. 4). Some labor activists’ ideas, at that time radical and unreasonable, became inevitable to our understanding of the democracy. People who are on unemployment or welfare programs today have activists such as Jacob Coaxes to thank for as he suggested that government should fund programs such as new jobs creation (Rosenstein, p. 107). The labor movement in the late sass targeted work related issues demanding equal rights, equal pay, favorable and safe working conditions, and reasonable working hours.

However, the biggest cause of a huge gap between the middle class and the upper class was corrupted government that allowed for monopolies to take over. Labor movement in the US had specific demands regarding an improvement of the workplace, such as higher wages and shorter workdays. However, as the labor movement progressed, people began to see the bigger picture involving the corrupted capitalism system and inequalities between and within the social classes. The rise of labor movement was the beginning of the development of the American citizenship rights as we know them today.