“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, or groups of organized workers, formed in the United States 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 company and the loss of their jobs.
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 (Clark 11). After the period of servitude, land owners would release their servants usually with a gift of land or money. 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 more popular than indentured servants with the wealthy land owners because they, 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 were so desperate for blacksmiths and carpenters that they bribed these workers to come and work there. Curiously enough, many skilled laborers wanted to leave...