industry comes of age 1850 1900 chapter 24 pp 550 556 n.
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Industry Comes of Age 1850-1900 Chapter 24 pp. 550-556. In Union There Is Strength.

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in union there is strength
In Union There Is Strength
  • With the influx of immigrants providing a labor force that would work for low wages and in poor environments, the workers who wanted to improve their conditions found that they couldn't, since their bosses could easily hire the unemployed to take their places.
  • Corporations had many weapons against strikers, such as hiring strikebreakers, or asking the courts to simply order strikers to stop striking. If they continued, the owners might ask the government to bring in troops.
  • Other methods included hiring replacements (scabs) or implementing lockouts to starve strikers into submission. Often workers had to sign ironclad oaths or yellow dog contracts which banned them from joining unions.



Trouble-making workers might also be blacklisted (put on a “don’t hire” list handed around to other owners).
  • The middle-class, annoyed by the recurrent strikes, gradually began to grow deaf to the worker’s outcry.
  • The general view of the time was that people like Carnegie and Rockefeller had battled and worked hard to get to the top, and workers could do the same if they “really” wanted to improve their situation.
    • In a broader sense, the idea of Social Darwinism pervaded society and lended workers little pity. It said a person's lot in life was the result of his or her own doing (or lack of doing)—the rich had earned their position and the poor had the same opportunity to do so.



labor limps along
Labor Limps Along
  • The Civil War put a premium on labor, which helped labor unions grow.
  • The National Labor Union, a social reform union formed in 1866, represented a giant step forward by workers and attracted an impressive total of 600,000 members, but it only lasted six years as it was killed by the depression of the 1870s.
    • However, it excluded Chinese and didn’t really try to get blacks and women to join either.
    • It worked for the arbitration of industrial disputes and the 8-hour workday - and actually temporarily won the latter for government workers until the Panic of 1872 and the ensuing depression of fixed that.


A new organization, the Knights of Labor, was begun in 1869 and continued secretly until 1881.
  • Similar to the National Labor Union, the Knights of Labor (the “one big union”) championed producer cooperatives and industrial arbitration.
    • It only barred liquor dealers, professional gamblers, lawyers, bankers, and stockbrokers, and they campaigned for economic and social reform.
    • Led by Terence V. Powderly, the Knights won a number of strikes for the eight-hour day. And when they staged a successful strike against Jay Gould’s Wabash Railroad in 1885, membership mushroomed to ¾ of a million workers.


unhorsing the knights of labor
Unhorsing the Knights of Labor
  • Soon, however, the Knights became involved in a number of May Day strikes of which half failed.
  • In Chicago, home to about 80,000 Knights (umm…and a few hundred anarchists that advocated a violent overthrow of the American government) tensions had been building. On May 4, 1886, Chicago police were advancing on a meeting that had been called to protest brutalities by authorities when a dynamite bomb was thrown, killing or injuring several dozen people, including policemen.

K of L seal

Eight anarchists were rounded up, though no one could prove that they had any association with the bombing. But since they had preached “incendiary doctrines”, the jury sentenced five of them to death on account of conspiracy and gave the other three stiff prison sentences.
  • In 1892, John P. Altgeld, a German-born Democrat was elected governor of Illinois and pardoned the three survivors after studying the case extensively. Altgeld received violent verbal and printed abuse for this and was defeated during reelection.
  • This so-called Haymarket Square Bombing forever associated the Knights of Labor with anarchists and lowered their popularity and effectiveness; membership declined, and those that remained fused with other labor unions.
    • The end result of the Haymarket Square incident was a distrust in unions and a decline in their membership.

Haymarket Square Riot

the afl to the fore
The AFL to the Fore
  • The most effective and most enduring (to this day, in fact) labor union was the American Federation of Labor.
  • Founded in 1886 by Samuel Gompers, it consisted of an association of self-governing national unions, each of which kept its independence with the AF of L unifying overall strategy.
  • Gompers demanded a fairer share for labor by simply wanting “more”. He sought better wages, hours, and working conditions.
From 1881 to 1900, there was over 23,000 strikes involving 6,610,000 workers with a total loss to both employers and employees of about $450 million.
  • Gompers wanted "trade agreements" to allow the "closed shop" (businesses closed to non-union members, or in other words, you must join the union in order to work there).
  • His main weapons were the boycott and the strike. To boycott, "We don't patronize" sign would be placed on unpopular businesses. To strike, union dues would build up funds to hopefully see them through the strike.
  • The AF of L was made up of skilled craftsmen. Unskilled workers were not included because they were too easily replaced and thus weakened the union. (This exclusion of unskilled workers is a notable difference from the CIO which came later and included the unskilled – Today they are united as the AFL-CIO, the most powerful union in the USA).
  • They eventually garnered 500,000 members and were criticized as the "labor trust." Still, this amounted to only about 3% of the labor force in the U.S.

AF of L conventions and rallies

By 1900, the American public’s attitudes toward labor began to change and to recognize the right of workers to bargain collectively and strike.
  • Americans who found fault with the “captains of industry” mostly argued that these men had built their corporate wealth and power by exploiting workers.
  • Nevertheless, the vast majority of employers continued to fight their workers from organizing.
  • Though a few owners were beginning to realize that losing money to fight labor strikes was useless and counterproductive, most owners still dogmatically fought labor unions.
  • And though Labor Day was made an official holiday in 1894, there was still many obstacles to climb before the working person would get their equal due.
  • In the grand scheme of things, despite unions' constant efforts, labor unions in the 1800's were largely ineffective mostly due to the never-ending stream of immigrants which always assured an eager labor force.
  • Hence, the age of big business had dawned, but the age of big labor was still some distance over the horizon………..