Labor Unions And Effects On The Lives Of Factory Workers

783 words - 3 pages

Organized labor, during the period from 1875-1900, had drastic effects on the lives of factory workers. Labor unions not only sought to improve working conditions; they wanted to have a large impact on society as a whole as well. These unions also altered feelings toward organized labor.
The Industrial Revolution that took place after the Civil War made for a more economically sound country. American workers, however, were becoming more and more dependent upon their wages; a fear of unemployment also stemmed from this. Workers didn’t share in the benefits that their employers reaped. In a chart representing the hours and wages of industrial workers, from 1875 to 1891, it shows that even though their wages were subtly increasing, their 10-hour work day remained the same (Doc. A). Factories were headed by large corporations; this, in turn, meant that new machines lessened the amount of workers in certain fields. As a result of these unsuitable conditions, labor unions were formed. The challenges that these unions faced weren’t easy. If the workers involved in organized labor got too far out of line, these corporations could get federal authorities involved. Moreover, these companies could enforce “ironclad oaths” upon their employees. In a Western Union Telegraph Company employee contract, in 1883, it states that the employee will not be affiliated with any societies or organizations (Doc. E). Despite such setbacks, by 1872 there were over 32 national unions.
There were several specific labor unions and strikes that affected the general public. In 1866, the National Labor Union was formed. Their main goal was the 8-hour work day. The National Labor Union did have some setbacks in achieving this goal; one in particular was the depression that hit during the 1870’s, which proved to be their ultimate demise. Wage cuts led to numerous strikes, especially the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. In an editorial from the New York Times on July 18, 1877, it states that the railroad strike was merely just a result of ignorant men who couldn’t fully understand their own interests (Doc. B). This editorial also demonstrated the lack of sympathy that the general public felt towards strikers. A new union that formed after the disintegration of the National Labor Union was the Knights of Labor. ...

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