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The Architects of American Freedom Liberty Fellowship Buena, NJ American Institute for History Education May 12, 2011. Immigration and the Rise of the American Labor Movement Eric Davis [email protected] .

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Presentation Transcript
The Architects of American Freedom

Liberty Fellowship

Buena, NJ

American Institute for History Education

May 12, 2011

Immigration and the Rise of theAmerican Labor MovementEric [email protected]://

The Backdrop for

the Rise of Labor

america and the republican ideal
America and the Republican ideal

What image did Americans have of their society during the early to mid-19th century?

The Republican ideal represented a core value

It stressed rugged individualism and self-reliance, values associated with rural life

In this model of America, the farm and small town was where the citizen controlled his life

Once rural to urban migration increased after the Civil War, this vision of life was disrupted

urbanization in the united states
Urbanization in the United States

1790, 95% Americans agrarian; 1920, 50%, pop. agrarian; 1990, 3% of pop. agrarian

By 1900, 40% Americans lived in cities; number doubled between 1860 and 1900

35 cities had populations over 100,000

Urban overcrowding created shortages of affordable housing, sanitation problems, outbreaks of diseases, water and air pollution

how did the us change after the civil war
Once the South’s economic power destroyed, the North could begin its Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution stimulated migration to cities and immigration to US from Europe

Agricultural machinery made much farm labor redundant as 19th century progressed

The “push” of fewer jobs in rural America was offset by “pull” of increased jobs in urban areas

How did the US change after the Civil War?
the us industrial revolution
US iron and steel output less than ½ Britain and France 1870

By 1890, US produced more than 1/3 world’s supply

Coal production more than doubled between 1880 and 1890

From 1864 to 1890, US moved from fourth place to first place in industrial goods

Industrial workers increased from 2.75 to 5.88 million between 1880 and 1890

The US Industrial Revolution
cultural tensions caused by immigration
Immigrants usually did not speak English

Often Roman Catholic, Jewish, or Christian Orthodox, and rejected by Protestants (WASPs)

Immigrants usually lacked education and took unskilled jobs, threatening US workers

Immigrants dressed in “exotic” clothing, and lived in segregated urban quarters

Thus there was little opportunity for English speaking public to interact with them

Cultural tensions caused by immigration
The impact of immigration on 19th century US
  • 40 million immigrants came to US, 1840-1820; 8.8 between 1900-1910; 60% lived in cities
  • US pop. increased from 76 to 94.5 million, 1900-1910
  • 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act passed and 1907 Japanese immigration to US restricted

Lewis Hine’s photograph of

Italian street workers under 6th

Ave. Elevated, NYC (1910)

Immigrants in Ellis Island

Technological change in

late 19th century America




Alexander Graham Bell

speaking into prototype

of telephone

First incandescent

light bulb



rise of mass media and culture
Rise of mass media and culture

Percentage children attending schools rose from 57% to72% between 1870 and 1890

Illiteracy rate declined from 20% to 11%

From 1870-1890, number of mass circulation newspapers increased from 574 to 2226

Number of weekly magazines from 4-12,000

Late 19th century saw rise of newspaper chains, e.g., Scripps, Hearst and Pulitzer

Rise of muckrakers who criticized political elites

Image of cholera

epidemic in NYC

Images of 19th century

newspapers and magazines:

the spread of literacy

why is the us labor important
Labor was key (along with capital) in building the US, especially its powerful industrial economy

Labor unions were important organizations that protected workers from rapacious businessmen

Without organized labor, there would have been no 8 hour day, workmen’s compensation, anti-child labor laws, and occupational safety and health protections

Labor unions have been core component of civil society in the US since the mid-1800s

Why is the US labor important?
labor and civil society
Labor and civil society

Definition: the right of citizens to organize groups to pursue collective social interests independent of the state and without state interference

A strong civil society is essential to sustain democracy, tolerance and political pluralism

Alexis de Tocqueville stressed that civil society at the core of US democracy in his study Democracy in America

Labor unions are a core component of US civil society because they foster social engagement

why did labor unions develop
How do we define labor unions?

A labor union is defined as an organization of workers who have banded together to achieve common goals, particularly better working conditions

Labor unions developed not just to improve working conditions but as fraternal (and maternal) organizations

Men and women began organizing in US as early as the 1820s (when unions helped pass first child labor laws in Massachusetts in 1826)

Unions really came into their own in the 1860s

Why did labor unions develop?
what was the first major labor union in us
The National Labor Union was formed in 1866

Organized craftsmen and construction workers, and later farmers and unskilled workers

Pressed for 8 hour day, a national labor party, and arbitration, instead of strikes, to win concessions

In 1868, NLU won right for government workers to work an 8 hour day

What was the first major labor union in US?
the nlu and social difference
The NLU and social difference

NLU made only limited efforts to help women and African-Americans

NLU campaigned for preventing Chinese workers from working in the US

African-Americans formed their own Colored National Labor Union

1870s, NLU focused exclusively on electoral politics where did very poorly and collapsed 1873

Many workers moved to Knights of Labor in 1870s due to its more activist policies

NLU not receptive to immigrants

who were the knights of labor
Most important early labor movement was Noble and Holy Order of Knights of Labor, established in 1869

Knights a secret organization founded in Philadelphia that initially spread among coal mines in the region

The Knights were interested in developing a “working class culture” and accepted workers of all ethnicities

K of L emphasized involvement of women, families, sports, and leisure activities and educational activities

K of L much more tolerant of immigrants than NLU

Who were the Knights of Labor?
why were the knights of labor powerful
The K of L deemphasized social class conflict and ascribed to “labor Republicanism” which held that producers and owner interests could be reconciled

The Knights achieved first great success in 1885 when they defeated Jay Gould’s Southeastern Railroad

Gould was a notorious “robber baron” who held workers in contempt

By 1886, the Knights were working to organize over 1400 strikes involving 600,000 workers throughout US

Why were the Knights of Labor powerful?
why were the knights of labor powerful1
Key to Knights success was its inclusive policy in welcoming all workers and its social organization

K of L’s social activities that included picnics, sporting events, gave members feeling of being part of a family

Using a strategy used by Irish workers, Knights organized boycotts, e.g., against Chicago streetcars in 1881 when pay increase request turned down

Knights emphasized non-violent action that won them many supporters, including politicians

Why were the Knights of Labor powerful?
why did knights of labor decline in power
Why did Knights of Labor decline in power?

K of L very progressive for its time, as it included women, blacks, skilled and unskilled workers

K of L felt earlier unions had failed because their membership was too restrictive

K of L sought 8 hr. day, end to child labor, equal pay for equal work, state ownership railroads and telegraphs, graduated income tax, and public land policy that benefited settlers, not speculators

With influx of more members, some of whom radical, K of L began to lose public support

labor unrest and violence in late 19 th century america
Labor unrest and violence in late 19th century America

US cavalry breaks up 1894 Pullman Car workers strike

1894 Pullman Car

workers strike


V. Debs,


Railway Union president, c. 1890

labor radicalism and immigration
Whereas labor movement had been largely peaceful in first half 19th century, it became more radical after Civil War

Immigrants played key role in this turn to radicalism

Two main ideologies that they brought from Europe were socialism and anarchism (Leon Czolgosz assassinated President McKinley in 1901)

Pre-Civil War labor movement had been more communitarian in seeking to make living conditions better and bring workers together

Socialists emphasized class struggle and anarchists said freedom could only possible if statedestroyed

But Robber Barons also contributed to radicalism by refusing to improve working conditions of laborers

Labor radicalism and immigration
labor radicalism the molly mcguires
Secret organization coal miners (most Irish) in Western Virginia and Pennsylvania that fought horrible working conditions and hiring discrimination

Took name from famous Irish widow who organized tenant protests in 1840s

Highly secretive, part of Workingmen’s Beneficial Association and protected by Ancient Order of the Hibernians

Mollys intimidated and even murdered officials until Pinkerton detectives brought members to trial in 1860s and several members were hung

Labor radicalism: the Molly McGuires
Working conditions

were very poor leading

Mollys to threaten bosses

The history of

The Molly

Maguires in

cartoon form

19 th century labor unrest haymarket riots
19th century labor unrest: Haymarket riots

On May 1, 1886, unions called for national strike in support of an 8 hour work day

Thousands workers demonstrated in US cities but Chicago center with 40,000 demonstrators

After bomb through into crowd, police fired upon strikers killing unknown number workers

Several anarchist labor leaders arrested and tried and hanged without supporting evidence

what was the impact of haymarket strike
What was the impact of Haymarket strike?

May Day 1886 McCormick Harvesting workers in Chicago struck for a shorter working day

May 3, police protected strikebreakers at factory and riot broke out with1 person killed

Anarchists, many of whom immigrants, set May 4 for large support rally in Haymarket Square

what happened at the riot
Research has shown that police sparked the riot by trying to disperse the demonstrators

No one knows who responded by throwing pipe bomb into crowd

8 policemen killed and anarchists arrested

Many tried and seven convicted of whom 4 were executed, even though prosecution agreed none had thrown the pipe bomb

What happened at the riot?
the aftermath of the haymarket riot
The Haymarket riot led to split in labor movement and reduced public support for unions

Increasingly unions became associated with violence and foreigners

American Federation of Labor (AFL) created as alternative to K of L

AFL stressed craft union membership which put it at odds with unskilled workers who often immigrants

The aftermath of the Haymarket Riot
Term “Ruhe”

was said to be

sign for armed

uprising in


The idea of the Haymarket Riot as a conspiracy designed to provoke armed uprising

Haymarket Memorial, Chicago

Images from Haymarket Riots, May 3, 1886

Showing coffins of victims in front of Catholic Church."

A funeral for twenty one people who died when state militia attacked

and burned a tent colony set up by striking coal miners. By Dold, Trinidad, Colorado, 1914

Images of labor

radicalism in early

20th century


Union organizer,

Mary “Mother” Jones

Immigrants, child

labor and the arts

Lewis Hine – Breakers Boys 1911

(young children working in

Hughestown Borough Coal Co.,

Pittston, PA)

“Team Work,” Newsboys,

Hartford CN March, 1909

Photograph of newsboy Tony Casale,

Hartford CN

“Livers” – St. Louis, 1910,

Newsboy at Franklin and

Jefferson Aves.

Lewis Hine’s photograph of child labor in an Indiana

glass factory between 1907 and 1917

“Spinner” 1908

Whitnel, NC

“A Six Year Old Boy (Italian) taking

Home Work During the Noon Hour”, 1912

Industrial elites,

industrialization and

the US labor movement

the rise of economic elites
Powerful economic elites arose after the Civil War in railroads and banking

Elites tried to establish political legitimacy by enhancing their social status

Increased status was achieved through cultural and material projects, e.g., art museums, monuments, urban buildings, estates, parks

To achieve social status, American elites sought to emulate behavior of European elites

The rise of economic elites
the captains of industry in the gilded age
1870-1920 was particularly good era in which to become rich

Robber barons derived wealth from railroads and finance, esp. selling shares in railroads

After 1900, technology played key role in new products and railroads allow their distribution

Oil, steel and other industries became important

Income tax finally passed in 1913 via 16th Amendment

Wealthy showed little concern for needs of people

The captains of industry in the Gilded Age
the rise of the american labor movement
Labor unrest developed as US industry rapidly expanded under the poor and dangerous working conditions of the late 19th century

The labor movement developed in the 1870s, e.g., first the Knights of Labor, tne American Federation of Labor, and later “Wobblies” (International Workers of the World)

Labor movement often included immigrants and ethnic groups who seen as “subversive”

The rise of the American labor movement
summary comments i
By late 1800s, US industrial power, with population that was ethnically and culturally diverse

Much of economic elite nouveaux riches, i.e., made money after Civil War and insecure about their status

Society shaken by rapid population growth and urbanization, and worker militancy

Increased political mobilization of large segments of populace threatened elite prerogatives and power

Populace increasingly educated, literate and politically conscious

Summary comments I
questions for students
What do students today know about labor unions in the US?

Do they think they have contributed to United States’ prosperity?

Do they feel that unions contribute to civic life in the United States?

Would they be willing to join a union?

Do they feel that the government has the right to curb union rights, e.g., collective bargaining?

What questions do you as teachers feel should be raised in the classroom about labor unions and the US labor movement?

Questions for students
Dubofsky, Melvyn, Labor in America: a History, 8th ed., Harlan Davidson, 2010

Freedman, Russell, Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor, Clarion Books, 1994

Hine, Lewis, Passionate Journey: Photographs, 1905-1937, ed. Karl Steinorth, Semmle, 1996

Riis, Jacob, How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York, Hilla dn Wang, 1957(1890)