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LABOR IN AMERICA (2106 words) Essay

LABOR IN AMERICABy Ira Peck(Scholastic Inc. )The Industrial Revolution was dawning in the United States. At Lowell, Massachusetts,the construction of a big cotton mill began in 1821. It was the first of several that wouldbe built there in the next 10 years.

The machinery to spin and weave cotton into clothwould be driven by water power. All that the factory owners needed was a dependablesupply of labor to tend the machines. As most jobs in cotton factories required neither great strength nor special skills, theowners thought women could do the work as well as or better than men. In addition,they were more compliant.

The New England region was home to many young, singlefarm girls who might be recruited. But would stern New England farmers allow theirdaughters to work in factories? The great majority of them would not. They believedthat sooner or later factory workers would be exploited and would sink into hopelesspoverty. Economic laws would force them to work harder and harder for less and lesspay.

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THE LOWELL EXPERIMENTHow, then, were the factory owners able to recruit farm girls as laborers? They did itby building decent houses in which the girls could live. These houses were supervisedby older women who made sure that the girls lived by strict moral standards. The girlswere encouraged to go to church, to read, to write and to attend lectures. They savedpart of their earnings to help their families at home or to use when they got married.

The young factory workers did not earn high wages; the average pay was about $3. 50a week. But in those times, a half-dozen eggs cost five cents and a whole chicken cost15 cents. The hours worked in the factories were long. Generally, the girls worked 11 to13 hours a day, six days a week.

But most people in the 1830s worked from dawn untildusk, and farm girls were used to getting up early and working until bedtime at nine o’clock. The factory owners at Lowell believed that machines would bring progress as well as profit. Workers and capitalists would both benefit from the wealth created by mass production. For a while, the factory system at Lowell worked very well.

The population of the towngrew from 200 in 1820 to 30,000 in 1845. But conditions in Lowell’s factories had alreadystarted to change. Faced with growing competition, factory owners began to decreasewages in order to lower the cost–and the price–of finished products. They increased the number of machines that each girl had to operate.

In addition, theybegan to overcrowd the houses in which the girls lived. Sometimes eight girls had to shareone room. In 1836, 1,500 factory girls went on strike to protest wage cuts. (The girls called theiraction a turn out. ) But it was useless.

Desperately poor immigrants were beginning toarrive in the United States from Europe. To earn a living, they were willing to accept lowwages and poor working conditions. Before long, immigrant women replaced theYankee (American) farm girls. To many people, it was apparent that justice for wage earners would not come easily. Labor in America faced a long, uphill struggle to win fair treatment. In that struggle, moreand more workers would turn to labor unions to help their cause.

They would endureviolence, cruelty and bitter defeats. But eventually they would achieve a standard ofliving unknown to workers at any other time in history. GROWTH OF THE FACTORYIn colonial America, most manufacturing was done by hand in the home. Some wasdone in workshops attached to the home. As towns grew into cities, the demand formanufactured goods increased.

Some workshop owners began hiring helpers to increaseproduction. Relations between the employer and helper were generally harmonious. They worked side by side, had the same interests and held similar political views. The factory system that began around 1800 brought great changes. The employerno longer worked beside his employees. He became an executive and a merchantwho rarely saw his workers.

He was concerned less with their welfare than with thecost of their labor. Many workers were angry about the changes brought by thefactory system. In the past, they had taken great pride in their handicraft skills; nowmachines did practically all the work, and they were reduced to the status of commonlaborers. In bad times they could lose their jobs. Then they might be replaced byworkers who would accept lower wages.

To skilled craft workers, the IndustrialRevolution meant degradation rather than progress. As the factory system grew, many workers began to form labor unions to protect theirinterests. The first union to hold regular meetings and collect dues was organized byPhiladelphia shoemakers in 1792. Soon after, carpenters and leather workers in Bostonand printers in New York also organized unions. Labor’s tactics in those early timeswere simple. Members of a union would agree on the wages they thought were fair.

They pledged to stop working for employers who would not pay that amount. They alsosought to compel employers to hire only union members. CONSPIRACY LAWSEmployers found the courts to be an effective weapon to protect their interests. In 1806,eight Philadelphia shoemakers were brought to trial after leading an unsuccessful strike.

The court ruled that any organizing of workers to raise wages was an illegal act. Unionswere conspiracies against employers and the community. In later cases, courts ruledthat almost any action taken by unions to increase wages might be criminal. Thesedecisions destroyed the effectiveness of the nation’s early labor unions.

Not until 1842 was the way opened again for workers to organize. That year several unionshoemakers in Boston were brought to trial. They were charged with refusing to work withnon-union shoemakers. A municipal court judge found the men guilty of conspiracy.

Butan appeal to a higher court resulted in a victory for labor unions generally. Chief JusticeLemuel Shaw ruled that it was not unlawful for workers to engage peacefully in unionactivity. It was their right to organize, he said. Shaw’s decision was widely accepted. Formany years following this decision, unions did not have to fear conspiracy charges.

UNION STRUGGLESIn the next two decades, unions campaigned for a 10-hour working day and against childlabor. A number of state legislatures responded favorably. In 1851, for example, New Jerseypassed a law calling for a 10-hour working day in all factories. It also forbade theemployment of children under 10 years old. Meanwhile trade unions were joining together in cities to form federations. A number ofskilled trades organized national unions to try to improve their wages and working conditions.

The effort to increase wages brought about hundreds of strikes during the 1850s. None wasas extensive, however, as a strike of New England shoemakers in 1860. The strike startedin Lynn, Massachusetts, when factory workers were refused a three-dollar increase in theirweekly pay. It soon spread to Maine and New Hampshire.

Altogether, about 20,000 workerstook part in the strike. It ended in a victory for the shoemakers. Similar victories were soonwon by other trade unions. These successes led to big increases in union membership.

Yetmost American workers were generally better off than workers in Europe and had more hopeof improving their lives. For this reason, the majority did not join labor unions. In the years following the Civil War (1861-1865), the United States was transformed by theenormous growth of industry. Once the United States was mainly a nation of small farms. By1900, it was a nation of growing cities, of coal and steel, of engines and fast communications.

Though living standards generally rose, millions of industrial workers lived in crowded,unsanitary slums. Their conditions became desperate in times of business depressions. Then itwas not unusual for workers to go on strike and battle their employers. Between 1865 and1900, industrial violence occurred on numerous occasions. Probably the most violent confrontation between labor and employers was the Great RailwayStrike of 1877. The nation had been in the grip of a severe depression for four years.

Duringthat time, the railroads had decreased the wages of railway workers by 20 percent. Manytrainmen complained that they could not support their families adequately. There was little thatthe trainmen could do about the wage decreases. At that time, unions were weak and workersfeared going on strike; there were too many unemployed men who might take their jobs.

Yet someworkers secretly formed a Trainmen’s Union to oppose the railroads. Then, in 1877, four big railroads announced that they were going to decrease wages another 10percent. In addition, the Pennsylvania line ordered freight train conductors to handle twice as manycars as before. On July 16, a strike began on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in West Virginia.

Thestrike quickly spread to other lines. On July 19, Pennsylvania Railroad workers at Pittsburghrefused to let freight trains move. (The strikers let passenger trains move freely because theycarried United States mail. ) The next day the governor sent statemilitiamen to oust the strikers fromthe freight yard. But these men were from Pittsburgh. They had many friends and relatives among thestrikers.

Soon they were mingling with the crowd of men, women and children at the freight yard. The next day 600 militiamen arrived from Philadelphia. They were ordered to clear the tracks at thefreight yard. The soldiers advanced toward the crowd and shooting erupted. In the aftermath, 20people in the crowd lay dead.

Many more were wounded. News of the killings triggered rioting andfires in the Pittsburgh railyards. President Rutherford Hayes ordered federal troops to Pittsburgh toend mob violence. When they arrived, the fighting had already ended. In the smoking ruins, theyfound the wrecks of more than 2,000 railroad cars. Dozens of buildings lay in ashes.

Many strikers were sent to jail and others lost their jobs. A large part of the public was shocked bythe violence in Pittsburgh and other cities. Some people were convinced that miners, railroadworkers and other laborers were common criminals. Legislatures in many states passed newconspiracy laws aimed at suppressing labor. But the Great Railway Strike of 1877 helped theworkers in some ways. A few railroads took back the wage cuts they had ordered.

More importantwas the support given to the strike by miners, iron workers and others. It gave labor an awarenessof its strength and solidarity. KNIGHTS OF LABORThe Railway Strike led many workers to join a growing national labor organization. It had a grandname–the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor. It was founded in 1869 by a small groupof Philadelphia clothing workers. Their union had been unable to organize effectively.

The reason,they believed, was that its members were too well-known. Employers fired them and then put theirnames on a blacklist. Other employers would not hire anyone whose name appeared on the list. The garment workers came to two conclusions:Secrecy was needed to protect union members against employer spies. Labor organizations would fail if they were divided into separate craft unions. Instead, labor shouldbe organized in one big union of both skilled and unskilled workers.

Membership in the Knights of Labor was open to wage earners over 18 years of age regardless ofrace, sex or skill. New members had to take an oath of secrecy. They swore that they wouldnever reveal the name of the order or the names of its members. The program of the Knights of Labor called for: an eight-hour working day, laws establishing aminimum weekly wage, the use of arbitration rather than strikes to settle disputes, laws to protectthe health and safety of industrial workers, equal pay for equal work, an end to child labor under14 years of age and government ownership of railroads, telegraphs and telephones.

It was impossible for the Knights to operate in complete secrecy. Rumors of their activitiesreached the press. Newspaper stories usually exaggerated the strength of the order. Underpressure from public opinion, the Knights began to operate openly.

But they were still forbiddento reveal the name of any member to an employer. Membership in the Knights increased slowly. By 1884, the order had only 52,000 members. Butthat year workers led by Knights of Labor organizers went on strike against two big railroadcompanies. Both strikes ended in complete victories for the Knights.

Now workers everywhererushed to join the order. Within two years membership in the Knights rose to 150,000. Newspaperswarned their readers about the power of the Knights. One of them said, Their leaders can shutmost of the mills and factories, and disable the railroads. Many people associated the order withdangerous radicals.

Later railroad strikes by the Knights met with defeat. The order was not nearly as powerful as ithad seemed. Workers began to leave it in great numbers. Within 10 years of its greatest victories,the Knights of Labor collapsed.

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LABOR IN AMERICA (2106 words) Essay
LABOR IN AMERICABy Ira Peck(Scholastic Inc. )The Industrial Revolution was dawning in the United States. At Lowell, Massachusetts,the construction of a big cotton mill began in 1821. It was the first of several that wouldbe built there in the next 10 years. The machinery to spin and weave cotton into clothwould be driven by water power. All that the factory owners needed was a dependablesupply of labor to tend the machines. As most jobs in cotton factories required neither great str
2021-07-12 23:54:32
LABOR IN AMERICA (2106 words) Essay
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