Early Strikes of the American Labor Movement
In the mid-nineteenth century and early twentieth century, industry in America was growing at an alarming rate. This growth brought about basic changes in the way things were produced and in the lives of those who produced them. It was the Civil War that first started to change industrial landscape of the nation. "More than a million dollars a day were spent on weapons, ammunition, machinery, clothing, boots, shoes, [and] canned goods" (Meltzer, 3). The high demand for so many different items brought bigger, newer and more efficient factories. The factories were producing cheaper products than the small, independent, hand-made specialists were. As a result of this industrialization a shoemaker, for example, no longer made the whole shoe. Instead the "new" shoemaker only made the heel, or shoelace. "Mass production left no place for the individual craftsman" (Meltzer, 4).
The new assembly line organization had several side effects. One was condition for the workers. Factories often provided inadequate housing which lead to bad living conditions. The working conditions were usually dirty, uncomfortable, and unsafe.
By 1900 nearly one out of every five in the labor force was a woman. Conditions for women and children were often much worse. "They [women] were used to hard work. In the home they put in 12 hours a day or more, cleaning, cooking, sewing, rearing children, and helping with the men's chores as well," (Foner, Women 8). Industry owners sent people to rural parts of the country to recruit women. They promised the women high wages, leisure hours, and silk dresses. Instead, the women worked 14 to 16 hours a day for an average wage of $1.56 a week. They received no silk dresses. "Some of the hands never touch their money from month's end to month's end. Once in two weeks is payday. A woman had then worked 122 hours. The corporation furnishes her house. There is rent to be paid; there are also the corporation stores from which she has been getting her food, coal… and [other] cheap stuff on sale may tempt her to purchase..." (Meltzer, 21). Factory employers also cheated women, believing they were defenseless. Some employers did not pay them at all, or deducted a large part of their pay for "imperfect" work. An 1870 survey showed that 7,000 of the working women could only afford to live in cellars and 20,000 were near starvation.
For children in the nineteenth century, idleness was considered a sin. And the factory was a God sent protector against the evils into which idleness might lead children. In the 1830's in Massachusetts, children in the factory worked 12 to 13 hours a day. In 1845, the mills in Lowell set hours for children from sunup to sunset. In New England two fifths of all workers were children. The Census of 1870 reported 700,000 children ages ten to fifteen at work. By 1910, nearly 2 million children ages ten to fifteen were at work. In...