Miscellaneous / How Successful Was Organized Labor In Improving The Position Of Workers In The Period From 1875-1900? Analyze The Factors That Contributed To The Level Of Success Achieved.

How Successful Was Organized Labor In Improving The Position Of Workers In The Period From 1875-1900? Analyze The Factors That Contributed To The Level Of Success Achieved.

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Autor:  anton  13 June 2011
Tags:  Successful,  Organized,  Improving,  Position,  Workers
Words: 2835   |   Pages: 12
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Relying on a critical evaluation of the accompanying documents and your knowledge of the time period, assess the validity of this statement: "The growth of organized labor between 1875 and 1900 was not a radical threat to American society."

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Document A

Source: From the Depths, William Balfour Ker, 1906

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Document B

Source: Terence V. Powderly, The Knights of Labor Champion Reform, 1887

We are breaking up old traditions. We are breaking up hereditary rights, and planting everywhere the seed of universal rights. We are breaking up the idea that money makes the man and not moral worth. We are breaking up the idea that might makes right... We are breaking up the practice of employing little children in factories, thus breeding a race of deformed, ignorant, and profligateВ… We are breaking up the idea that the accident of sex puts one-half of the human race beyond the pale of constitutional rights. We are breaking up the practice of paying woman one-third the wages paid man simply because she is a woman.

Yes, the Knights of Labor are breaking up, and they will continue their appointed work of breaking up until universal rights shall prevail; and while they may not bring in the millennium, they will do their part in the evolution of moral forces that are working for the emancipation of the race.

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Document C

Source: President T. Roosevelt as quoted in the Evening Post, 1895

We shall guard as zealously the rights of the striker as those of the employer. But when riot is menaced it is different. The mob takes its own chance. Order will be kept at whatever cost. If it comes to shooting we shall shoot to hit. No blank cartridges or firing over the head of anybody.

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Document D

Source: Samuel Gompers, An AFL Perspective on Women in the Work Force, 1897

The invasion of the crafts by women has been developing for years amid irritation and injury to the workman. The right of the woman to win honest bread is accorded on all sides, but with craftsmen it is an open question whether this manifestation is of a healthy social growth or not.

Is it a pleasing indication of progress to see the father, the brother and the son displaced as the breadwinner by the mother, sister, and daughter?

The growing demand for female labor is not founded upon philanthropy, as those who encourage it would have sentimentalists believe; it does not spring from the milk of human kindness. It is an insidious assault upon the home; it is the knife of the assassin, aimed at the family circle- the divine injunction. It debars the man through financial embarrassment from family responsibility, and physically, mentally and socially excludes the woman equally from nature's dearest impulse. Is this the demand of civilized progress; is it the desire of Christian dogma?

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Document E

Source: Grover Cleveland, Second Inaugural Address, 1893

I deem it fitting on this occasion, while indicating the opinion I hold concerning public questions of present importance, to also briefly refer to the existence of certain conditions and tendencies among our people which seem to menace the integrity and usefulness of their Government.

While every American citizen must contemplate with the utmost pride and enthusiasm the growth and expansion of our country, the sufficiency of our institutions to stand against the rudest shocks of violence, the wonderful thrift and enterprise of our people, and the demonstrated superiority of our free government, it behooves us to constantly watch for every symptom of insidious infirmity that threatens our national vigor.

The strong man who in the confidence of sturdy health courts the sternest activities of life and rejoices in the hardihood of constant labor may still have lurking near his vitals the unheeded disease that doom him to sudden collapse.

The lessons of paternalism ought to be unlearned and the better lesson taught that while the people should patriotically and cheerfully support their Government, its functions do not include the support of the people.

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Document F

Source: Terrence V. Powderly, Thirty Years of Labor, 1859-1889 (Philadelphia: T. V. Powderly, 1890)

The annual convention of the Knights of Labor that convened in Richmond, Virginia, on October 4, 1886, took place in a region driven by racial and political conflict.

You stand face to face with a stern, living reality; a responsibility which cannot be avoided or shirked. The Negro question is a living reality; a responsibility that cannot be avoided or shirked. The first proposition that stares us in the face is this: the Negro is free; he is here and he is here to stay. He is a citizen and must learn to manage his own affairs. His labor and that of the white man will be thrown upon the market side by side, and no human eye can detect a difference between the article manufactured by the black mechanic and that manufactured by the white mechanic. Both claim an equal share of the protection afforded to American labor, and both mechanics must sink their differences or fall prey to the slave labor now being imported to this country.

Every man has the right to say who shall enter beneath his roof; who shall occupy the same bed, private conveyance, or such other place as he is the master of. I reserve for myself the right to say who I will or will not associate with. That right belongs to every other man. I have no wish to interfere with that right.

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Document G

Source: Isaac Meyers representing the Colored Caulkers' Trades Union Society

I speak for the colored men of the whole country. . . when I tell you that all they ask for themselves is a fair chance; that you shall be no worse off by giving them that chance; that you and they will dwell in peace and harmony together; that you and they shall make on steady and strong pull til the laboring men of this country shall receive such pay for time made as such will secure them a comfortable living for their families, educate their children and leave a dollar for a rainy day and old age. Slavery, or slave labor, the main cause of degradation of white labor, is no more. It is the proud boast of my life that the slave himself had a large share in the striking off of the one end of the fetters that bound him by the ankle, and the other that bound you by the neck.

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Document H

Source: The New York Herald (on the great railroad strikes of 1877)

The sight presented after the soldiers ceased firing was sickening. Old men and boys attracted to the [scene] . . .lay writhing in the agonies of death, while numbers of children were killed out right. Yellowside, the neighborhood of the scene of the conflict, was actually dotted with the dead and dying; while weeping women, cursing loudly and deeply the instruments which had made them widows, were clinging to the bleeding corpses.

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Document I

Source: Song sung by the Knights of Labor in 1886

We mean to make things over

We're tired of toil for nought

But bare enough to live on; never

An hour for thought.

We want to feel the sunshine: we

Want to smell the flowers

We're sure that God has willed it

And we mean to have eight hours.

We're summoning our forces from

Shipyard, shop and mill

Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest

Eight hours for what we will.

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Essay

The early organization of labor unions to protect the rights of workers and fight for better conditions began in the early part of the 1800s with the Lowell girls. Throughout the 19th century, labor unions evolved to fit the changing values of society, and in some cases served as the catalyst to social change. Labor unions of the late 1800s also became more militant in their demands, which caused an abrupt change in the way the government handled them. All things considered, labor unions from 1875-1900 posed a radical threat to American society and were treated as such.

Strikes and violence associated with those strikes were extremely prevalent in the late 1800s. The working conditions in American industry had steadily declined as owners sought to cut costs on production. With a steady stream of immigrants coming into the country, the rising monopolies found an abundant, unskilled work force that would work for miniscule wages and in hellish conditions. Such conditions are highlighted in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Coupled with a rising schism between rich and poor, the workers decided to strike back at the affluent of their society. This is shown clearly by Document A in which the repressed under class is coming up through the floor of the upper class party whose members flee at the sight of the fist rising. Workers often used the strike through newly formed labor unions, both made lawful by the 1842 decision of Commonwealth v. Hunt, to accomplish this. Several unions formed to meet the demand. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) headed by Samuel Gompers was founded in 1881 for skilled male workers. For the unskilled masses, the Knights of Labor was formed in 1869. In the 1870s there was widespread unemployment causing depression conditions in the workforce as well as a growing hostility towards union militancy among the middle-class. Especially troubling was the formation of "Molly Maguires," a violent labor organization in Pennsylvania. They attempted to intimidate coal operators with terrorist tactics and even murder. But despite the large amount of excitement over these Irishmen, hysteria gripped the country with the outbreak of the first major national labor conflictВ—the railroad strike of 1877. It all began when the eastern railroads announced a 10 percent wage cut. Strikers shut down rail service from Baltimore to St. Louis, destroying equipment and starting riots. In Philadelphia, state militia opened fire on the demonstrating workers and their families. One witness reported to The New York Herald that "the sight presented after the soldiers ceased firing was sickeningВ… Yellowside, the neighborhood of the scene of the conflict, was actually dotted with the dead and dying; while weeping women, cursing loudly and deeply the instruments which had made them widows, were clinging to the bleeding corpses." (Document H) In 1886, The AFL threatened to a general strike if their workers did not achieve their goal of gaining an eight-hour workday. Workers sang "we want to feel the sunshine: we want to smell the flowers. We're sure that God has willed it, and we mean to have eight hours." (Document I) In Chicago a strike was already heating up at the McCormick Harvester Company when the general strike began. Radicals met in Haymarket Square and when police told them to leave someone threw a bomb killing seven officers. Again at the Homestead plant, a labor union, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, used vicious means to fight off the Pinkertons (known strikebreakers). The plant brought in the National Guard to restore peace and continue production. The 1894 Pullman strike also was an example of union militancy. Strikes in the late 19th century were damaging to the plight of the American worker as well as the labor union movement as a whole.

The government response to these strikes was almost unanimously in favor of the employers. President Grover Cleveland, upon his re-election to the presidency in 1893, said of the strikes that every citizen should "constantly watch for every symptom of insidious infirmity that threatens our national vigor." He went on to say in that same address that "the lessons of paternalism ought to be unlearned and the better lesson taught that while the people should patriotically and cheerfully support their Government, its functions do not include the support of the people." (Document E) This illustrates the attitude of the government toward the plight of its common man. While strikes for better working conditions continued, the government showed little change in its policy. As President Theodore Roosevelt said, "Order will be kept at whatever cost. If it comes to shooting, we shall shoot to hit. No blank cartridges or firing over the head of anybody." (Document C) The government reaction to strikes was not one of sympathy. The presidency and state governments dispatched troops to "keep the peace" in each of the violent riots, and it was precisely for the reason that Cleveland statedВ—the government at the time felt that they had little obligation to the strikers but an important devotion to keep things in order.

Another radical threat posed by the rise of labor unions in the latter quarter of the 19th century was that of redefining traditional women and family roles. Women rushed into the new industrial work force. This new working woman meant that the traditional role of staying at home and caring for children as a woman's primary duty was radically changed. Children began to work as well in factories to earn money for the family. These women suffered the same working conditions and long hours as the men yet they were paid only a fraction of what the men received. They were in desperate need of labor unions to fight for their cause, yet were scornfully turned away by the AFL. The Knights of Labor, however, welcomed women into their ranks. Terence Powderly commented on this new position in saying that "we [the Knights of Labor] are breaking up old traditionsВ…we are breaking up the idea that the accident of sex puts one-half of the human race beyond the pale of constitutional rights. We are breaking up the practice of paying woman one-third the wages paid man simply because she is a woman." (Document B) Despite this new found strength of women in labor unions, many still felt like Samuel Gompers, leader of the AFL, who described the allowance of women in the work force as "an insidious assault upon the home; it is the knife of the assassin, aimed at the family circleВ—the divine injunction." (Document D) With women out of the home, working alongside their husbands, and joining unions, many Americans felt that the family was being jeopardized and their whole view of women's responsibilities was being challenged. American society as a whole was being affected radically by the adoption of women into the rising labor movement.

The re-evaluation of race relations was also a radical social change occurring between 1875-1900. With the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, the arduous process of Reconstruction had begun. Former slaves were out of work and many made the journey into urban communities to take advantage of the new industrial economy full of jobs for unskilled workers. In addition to the exclusion of women, the AFL also excluded blacks from joining. The Knights of Labor had no rules against the new workers and openly accepted them and sympathized with their plight. Terence Powderly commented that "the Negro is free; he is here and he is here to stay. He is a citizen and must learn to manage his own affairs. His labor and that of the white man will be thrown upon the market side by side, and no human eye can detect a difference between the article manufactured by the black mechanic and that manufactured by the white mechanic." (Document F) The Knights of Labor saw blacks as another worker to join in their fight for better living and working conditions. And the freed slaves saw it in the same way. Isaac Meyers said he "speak[s] for the colored men of the whole countryВ…when I tell you that all they ask for themselves is a fair chance; that you shall be no worse off by giving them that chanceВ…Slavery, or slave labor, the main cause of degradation of white labor is no more. It is the proud boast of my life that the slave himself had a large share in the striking off of the one end of the fetters that bound him by the ankle, and the other that bound you by the neck." (Document G) Despite the blacks' pleas for equality, they saw small changes in the blatant racism continuing in post-Civil War times. The presence of former slaves in the work force meant that they too would join in the labor union movement thus taking a radical step towards political and social activity that had never been offered to them before.

The period of 1875-1900 was a turbulent time for the growth of labor unions. There was a change of social roles for women and blacks as well as a rising militancy among the unions in opposition to the new opulent society so far from their grasp. Both the government and the majority of the middle-class felt that they were a radical threat to the traditional ways of life and sought to suppress and attack these sentiments. The common American worker of the late 19th century was able through the rising labor union movement to join hands with people never before accepted into his union, forget about sexual or racial differences, and take a large step toward social, economic, and political change, which translated into a radical threat to what many deemed "traditional" American society.



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