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Unions Undermined Essay

1242 words - 5 pages

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Unions UnderminedThe explosion of mechanization and industrialization in the last quarter of the 19th century brought organized labor into the foreground. The economic, social and political factors exercised influenced organized labor during this period by keeping it under a tight lid. Thus the labor movement emerged with distinct disadvantages in its conflicts with organized capital during 1875-1900.The success of American industry in the late 18th and early 19th century was built on the exploitation of hundreds of thousands of workers who labored 10-12 hours a day for miserable wages in unsafe factories and lived in bare and comfortless homes. By the late 19th century, mass production and mechanization changed the size and shape of the labor force and the nature of work itself. As evidenced in the testimony of a machinist before the Senate Committee on Labor and Capital in 1883, "…the trade has been subdivided and those subdivisions again subdivided so that a man never learns the machinists trade now… through this system of work 100 men are able to do now what it took 300 or 400 men to do fifteen years ago." While the explosion of industries provided better job opportunities to the workers, they deplored their employers' values. Disgruntled workers started on-the-job protests or resorted to violence to protect themselves and the dignity of labor, with only limited success. Soon the workers realized that they could only fight their employers and inhumane conditions by banding together to form trade unions.The ethnic diversity of the working class played a distinct part in the success and failure of the union. The American working class was a heterogeneous mixture of people from different cultures, religions and education. A disproportionate amount of workers were immigrants with little or no education and could not even speak English. The earliest labor union, the Knights of Labor, tried to amalgamate the labor by extending membership to all workers but the Knights of Labor failed to produce effective national and local leaders. The failed strike against the southern railroad system in 1886 tarnished the Knights' reputation. Consumer and producer cooperation fizzled and the policy of accepting black workers caused strife in the south. The membership of the Knights of Labor tumbled from 70000 in 1886 to 10000 in 1890. The sudden death of the Knights of Labor propelled the American Federation of Labor as the leader of union organization. The AFL was organized in 1886 as a federation of skilled trades and focused on the immediate issues of higher wages, shorter hours, safer working conditions, and organizational rights. As the average daily hours, which remained at 9.9 hours from 1875 to 1885, went down to 9.4 hours by 1891 as evidenced by the historical statistics of the U.S. However, the increase in the daily wages was, at best, marginal. Also, union leaders did not take an interest in the plight of unskilled workers....

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