“Labor Unions in America have had a history of being loud, messy and relatively unsuccessful” (Yvettecerbone).” One of their biggest problems were the wages and hours they received, this continued from 1875-1900 when they only saw slight changes in the average daily wages, and average daily hours” (Document A). (Yvettecerbone).”The years following after the Civil War and Reconstruction was an era somewhat glided. The second Industrial Revolution came about with new inventions and even revolutionized how factories and jobs were worked during this time. Factory workers in this time period would be working in poor conditions and had no/little power whatsoever.
“They were often abused while their pay would be cut low. The mass immigration also didn’t favor laborers as it made them easy to replace. In order to fight back laborers would join labor unions in order to protest; however, during this time the labor unions were not too effective during 1875-1900 because even though they had their efforts many of them would not work to their advantage. Efforts would give them a bad reputation, gets out of hand and the government didn’t take initiatives to help, hence not accomplishing much at all.”
One of the main reasons that caused this was with the Western Union Telegraph Company employee contract which stated: ” I name of city in consideration of my present reemployment by the Western Union Telegraph Co. hereby promise and agree to and with the said company. I will forth abandon any and all membership connection or affiliation with any organization or society, whether secret or open. Which in anywise attempts to regulate the conditions of my services or the payment thereof while in the employment now undertaken. I hereby further agree that I will while in the employ of said company, render good and faithful service to the best of my ability, and will not in any otherwise renew or re-enter upon any relations or membership whatsoever in or with any such organizations or society.” Overall this is saying that if you work for a company you can NOT join a union (Document E).
“There were a good number of labor unions during the late 19th century and they all seemed to have different needs. This disunity within the labor movement was extremely detrimental and is without a doubt one of the reasons why organized labor was not successful in improving the position of workers. Discrimination based on race or gender within labor unions fueled much of the disunity in the labor movement of the late 1800’s. Almost every major labor union in the US during this time discriminated against some group. The Molly Maguires, AFL, American Railway Union, and National Labor Union all refused to grant membership regardless of race, gender or skill level” (Anton).
“If these labor unions were to grant membership to all workers, their movements would have a lot more support and they might have achieved something in their numerous strikes. When only one group of people was protesting for better working conditions, the power of the protest was inherently lower than a strike that included all workers. Most labor unions consisted of white males from different ethnic backgrounds. As seen in Document G, those who protested in the Homestead Strike were white immigrants from different parts of Europe. Having men who did not share a common identity and were from various European backgrounds also lead to disunity within labor groups and further hurt the labor movement” (Anton).
“The labor movement of the late 19th century also included too many individual labor unions each fighting for individual gains. The presence of so many unions hurt the unity of the labor movement as a whole and led to unsuccessful strikes and protests. In the cartoon of (Document F), the disunity of the labor movement is shown and the point that having too many labor unions fighting for their own individual interests hurts the overall interests of the labor movement is emphasized. The cartoon shows different groups such as the Knights of Labor, “communists”, “anarchists” and labor unions fighting for their own interests instead of fighting for the betterment of working conditions in general. The Knights of Labor searched for utopian ideals while groups such as the AFL focused on “bread and butter” issues. The labor movement had disunity both within and between labor groups and as a result, the labor movement did not achieve much” (Anton).
“The organized labor movement was not popular with all American citizens and in fact, there was a growing concern for the rise of organized labor throughout the country. As strikes and protests became more violent, more people started to see these movements as radical. The newspapers had a pivotal role in the labeling of labor movements as radical. One of the most important factors of the American opinion upon labor unions was the press. One of them was the New York Times (Document B). Often times the press was bribed by big companies in order to have the people favor them, hence giving strikers and labor unions a bad name. This article is about the Baltimore and the Ohio Railroad strike”.
They say it’s a hopeless cause and the strikers do not even know what they want. In Document B, a New York Times editorial claims that the strike “is nothing more than a rash and spiteful demonstration of resentment by men too ignorant or too reckless to understand their own interests.” The Great Railroad Strike and the Haymarket Riot were both strikes that ended in the deaths of protesters and government officials. These protests sparked public contempt towards organized labor and solidified the radical label on organized labor.
Along with seeing labor movements as radical, many labor movements were labeled socialist by the media. In the cartoon in (Document C), the labor movement is shown to be influenced by socialist controls. Considering the generally negative connotation that came with communism in the United States, when newspapers like Harper’s Weekly labeled organized labor as socialist, many people developed a negative attitude towards organized labor. The disapproval of organized labor was not exclusive to the American public but also the federal government. (Document C) also states that the reputation for labor unions wasn’t so good. In the picture, one can see that the laborer has killed the goose which lays the golden egg. One of these golden eggs are in his pocket and another in the bag of his wife and kid (Yvettecerbone).
The picture also suggested that labor unions didn’t know what they are doing and will regret it in the long run. The man in the back is a communist showing that labor unions have communist influence. “Strike!! Strike!! As they did last July down with the Capital,” refers to the same strike as Document B, and ridicules them about it, saying they are against the capital. The fact that a good portion of the American public and the federal government saw organized labor as a detriment; it was no surprise that organized labor did not accomplish much during the late 20th century (Yvettecerbone).
As organized labor grew in the United States, there were more strikes and protests for improvements in working conditions. Not all of these protests were carried out peacefully, however. One of the sole reasons for why organized labor did not succeed was because the violence that came with many of the strikes and protests. The Great Railroad Strike, Haymarket Riot, Homestead Strike and the Pullman Strike were all important strikes during the late 20th century and all involved some sort of violence on the part of protesters and government officials. Document G shows a firsthand account of the result of labor violence.
In the Haymarket Riot, protesters threw bombs at police to protest the killings of workers by a policeman. In the Homestead Strike, Pinkerton agents were brought in to suppress the violent protesters. An outsider could hardly tell that people were protesting wages and working conditions when it looked like the police and protesters were fighting a war. Protesters using violence to gain rights in the workplace was not an effective technique by any means and as a result, none of the violent strikes resulted in gains for organized labor groups. When people were being killed and federal troops had to be called in to suppress the violence, it was hard for unions to gain any leverage on businesses (Yvettecerbone).
“The gilded age in America leads to an increase in the wage gap and a rise in organized labor unions. However many of these labor unions were unsuccessful in attaining their goals. Many groups struggled against public disdain and the fight for recognition. Many protests ended in violence either between workers or between business heads and union members. Labor unions also found themselves often fighting among other unions. There was no sense of cooperation between separate union groups. Between 1875 and 1900 most workers in the US didn’t make significant gains in their work, many of their aspirations did not come until the turn of the century and the progressive period that it was coupled with” (LCPS)
“Finally, when they were recognized by the government, for example the Supreme Court, they passed the Interstate Commerce Act; however this act was not enforced. Also this didn’t help out the primary cause for labor unions. Gomper’s testimony (Document I), claims that workers find that improvements in methods of production and distribution are constantly being made. Workers, therefore, he argues need occasionally to strike or all advantages will go to the employers and all injuries to the employees. Rights, he says, have been gained by the people through sacrifices and persistency. Samuel Gomper was the founder of the American Federation of Labor. The AFL did survive the 19th century because it primarily included skilled workers. Overall The organized labor union was relatively unsuccessful because labor unions were often not unified, there was general resentment towards organized labor and because most strikes were often futile because they ended in violence.”