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Labor Unions and Great Strikes

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  1. Labor Unions and Great Strikes

  2. Labor Discontent • Factory work was highly structured and regulated to increase productivity – much different from the work that artisans did prior to Industrial Revolution. • Assigned just one step in the process • Semiskilled tasks, very repetitive and monotonous • Tyranny of the clock • Dangerous conditions • Exposed to chemicals and pollutants • Changed jobs a lot – average of every three years

  3. Protest • Absenteeism • Quitting • Most common forms of protest • About 20% dropped out of industrial workforce, far higher than percentage that joined labor unions • Late 19th century – violent labor conflicts

  4. Tools of Employers in dealing with Organized Labor • Surplus of cheap labor – easy to replace workers with strikebreakers or scabs. • Lockouts – close factory to break movement before it could get organized. • Blacklists – prounion workers on list, circulated. • Yellow-dog contracts – workers had to sign agreement not to join union before they would be hired. • Private guards/state militia – called in to put down strikes • Court injunctions – against strikes • Stirred up fear among the public against unions as un-American • Prior to 1900, won most battles with organized labor, could always count on government support, esp. if there was violence

  5. Tools of labor • Divided on best methods to fight management • Political action • Strikes • Picketing • Boycotts • Slowdowns • Goal to achieve union recognition and collective bargaining

  6. Attempts to Organize • National Trades Union – 1830s • National Labor Union – 1866 • Knights of Labor – 1869 • American Federation of Labor - 1886

  7. National Labor Union • 1866 • First attempt to organize all workers in all states, both skilled and unskilled, agricultural and industrial • Blacks and women not allowed to join • Goals – higher wages, 8 hour day • Broad social program – equal rights for women and blacks, monetary reform, worker cooperatives • Lost support after depression in 1873 and unsuccessful strikes of 1877 (Great Railroad Strike)

  8. National Trades Union • Open to workers of all crafts • Survived only a few years • Destroyed by panic and depression of 1837

  9. Knights of Labor • 1869 • Led by Terrence Powderly • Began as secret society in 1869, went public in 1881 • Opened membership to all workers – African Americans and women • Goals – equal pay for equal work, 8 hour workday, end to child labor – didn’t emphasize higher wages as primary goal • Preferred not to use strikes • Difficulty bargaining collectively b/c they represented such diverse groups • Declined after violence of Haymarket riot in Chicago in 1886 turned public against the union.

  10. Knights of Labor Trade CardSeamstress and tailor (age and beauty) in Knights of Labor card designed to carry imprint of approved merchant on back.

  11. American Federation of Labor • 1886 • Founded by Samuel Gompers • Concentrated on practical economic goals • Unlike KOL which had been idealistic and reform minded • Went after basics (bread and butter union) • Higher wages, improved working conditions • Gompers ordered walkouts until employers would negotiate new contracts through collective bargaining. • By 1901, the largest union in US, over 1 million members • Didn’t achieve major successes until early decades of 20th century

  12. WOBBLIES • Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) a/k/a Wobblies • 1905, Chicago • Focused on unskilled workers • Radical union, included many Socialists • Violent strikes, even promoted strikes in war-related industries

  13. MAJOR STRIKES • Railroad Strike of 1877 • Haymarket 1886 • Homestead 1892 • Pullman 1894

  14. Railroad Strike of 1877 • Why? • B&O railroad announced 10% wage cut during depression, 2nd cut in 8 months • Wage cut to reduce costs • Also running extra long trains with two engines, workers laid off, dangerous • Strike spread across 11 states and shut down 2/3 of the country’s rails • Workers joined by other industries • Rioters attacked railroad property, governors asked federal government for help • FIRST TIME in history – President Hayes sent in federal troops to end labor violence • Strike collapsed • More than 100 people killed • Employers began to rely on federal and state troops to keep unrest/strikes down • Some employers began to address grievances by improving wages and conditions, others worked harder than ever to bust workers’ organizations • Workers accepted the wage cut and went back to work.

  15. Pics of Railroad Strike

  16. Haymarket 1886 • 1st May Day labor movement • Demonstrating for 8 hour workday • McCormick reaper factory in Chicago – police broke up fight between workers and scabs, several wounded • Protest rally May 4 • Protesting treatment of workers by police • Anarchists joined the protest (advocated violent overthrow of government • Police attempted to break up the meeting at Haymarket Square • Someone threw a bomb, killed 7 police officers • Bomb thrower never found • 8 anarchists were tried for conspiracy to commit murder – 4 hanged, 1 suicide in jail, 3 pardoned (no real evidence against them) • Led many Americans to believe union movement was radical and violent. • Knights of Labor lost popularity and membership No 8 hour day until FDR’s New Deal

  17. Haymarket Riot

  18. Homestead 1892 • Why? • Wages cut 20% by manager of Carnegie’s steel plant near Pittsburgh (Henry Frick) • Frick used the lockout, private guards and strikebreakers to defeat workers walkout after five months. • Workers fought bloody battle and drove off 300 Pinkerton detectives hired to guard the plant and break the strike. • Gov. of PA sent state militia • Union’s resources were exhausted, strike collapsed, workers accepted the company’s terms. • Frick’s goal was to get rid of the union at the Carnegie plant. • American sympathy was with the strikers until someone tried to kill Frick. • Plant remained non-union until the late 1930s.

  19. Homestead Strike

  20. Pullman 1894 • Last of the great strikes • Marked shift in government’s involvement with labor-employer relations • Why? • Company town for Pullman workers, bad conditions • Workers laid off, wages cut 25% • Rent/prices in company town at same level • Delegation protested, Pullman fired 3 of them • Led to local union strike • Pullman closed the plant, wouldn’t bargain

  21. Pullman • Eugene Debs (labor organizer) urged boycott of Pullman cars. • Widespread local strikes • 120,000 railroad workers joined the strike • Western railroad traffic disrupted, including mail delivery • Railroad turned to the federal government • Argued the mail had to get through • Court order forbidding all union activity that halted railroad traffic. • President Cleveland sent troops to make sure strikers obeyed. • Over in a week. • Government helped limit union gains for over 30 years. • Workers did not get lower rents.

  22. Pullman Strike

  23. Grover Cleveland • “If it takes the entire Army and Navy of the US to deliver a postcard in Chicago, that postcard will be delivered.”