“I regard my workpeople just as I regard my machinery...When my machines get old and
useless, I reject them and get new, and these people are part of my machinery” (Sands 12). A
foreman at a textile mill in Fall River, Massachusetts spoke these words in possibly the worst
time during American labor history, the Industrial Revolution. During the Industrial Revolution,
large numbers of people in the United States flocked to work in factories where they faced long
hours, unsanitary and unsafe conditions and poor wages. Labor unions in the United States
formed to ensure workers the right to a safe workplace and a fair wage in the face of capitalistic
factory owners seeking wealth. In exchange, union members owe the responsibility to work
diligently and to the best of their abilities or face the failure of their employer and the loss of
In the eighteenth century, most people in what was to become the United States worked
on farms and plantations (Clark 11). Seeking wealth, farm and plantation owners needed cheap
or free labor to work their fields, so they bought indentured servants. Initially, indentured
servants were people who wanted to immigrate to the colonies but could not afford to do so.
Land owners paid for the indentured servants’ journeys over to the colonies. In return, the
servants worked as slaves to the land owners for a certain amount of time, usually seven years.
For this reason, indentured servitude is also known as “white slavery” (Clark 11). After the
period of servitude, land owners would release their servants usually with a gift of land or
However, land owners did not like having to let their servants go. They wanted
something more permanent: slaves (Clark 12). The first slaves were brought to the colonies in
1619 by the Dutch. They were vastly more popular than indentured servants with the wealthy
Ondersma_Audrey Tuesday, December 3, 2013 10:19:59 AM Eastern Standard Time
land owners because these, unlike the servants, never had to be released or given land.
Eventually, this want of free labor caused the slave traders to come to the United States in droves
(Clark 12). This desire for cheap or free labor was not limited to farm and plantation owners.
The factory system in the United States began to grow before the American Revolution
with shops that made wares to order (Clark 14). In the mid seventeen hundreds, farmers and
plantation owners would give raw materials like cotton or wool to other families to turn into
things like thread and yarn for a share of the profits. This was called the “domestic
system” (Sands 4). With this, private capitalism, or the idea that you get to keep what you earn,
developed and reinforced the want of cheap labor.
Since most people immigrated to the United States to work on farms and cultivate land,
not many people worked in shops as skilled laborers, although there was a great need for them
(Dubofsky 3). Some villages...