The Rise of Unions
The original citywide labor federations grew into many national-scale labor organizations that fought for workplace rights, wages, working hours, political expression, labor laws, and other working conditions.
Explain the factors that led to the rise of unions
- The first major effort to organize workers’ groups on a nationwide basis was led by The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor in 1869.
- The Knights of Labor soon fell into decline, and the American Federation of Labor ( AFL ) soon took their place in the labor movement.
- In the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, attempts to break the strike led to bloody uprisings in several cities.
- The Haymarket Affair took place in 1886, when an anarchist allegedly threw a bomb at police dispersing a strike rally at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago.
- In the riots of 1892, at Carnegie’s steel works, strikers fired upon a group of 300 Pinkerton detectives hired as strikebreakers.
- Wage cuts at the Pullman Palace Car Company in 1894 led to a strike, which helped bring the nation’s railway industry to a halt.
- strike: A work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work, usually in response to employee grievances.
- layoff: A dismissal of employees from their jobs because of tightened budgetary constraints or work shortage (not due to poor performance or misconduct).
- Samuel Gompers: An English-born, American labor union leader and a key figure in American labor history; he founded the American Federation of Labor.
- Knights of Labor: The first major labor union, started in 1869.
Labor unions are legally recognized entities that represent workers in many industries in the United States. The nature and power of organized labor is the outcome of historical tensions among counteracting forces involving workplace rights, wages, working hours, political expression, labor laws, and other working conditions. Organized unions and their umbrella labor federations such as the AFL-CIO and citywide federations have competed, evolved, merged, and split against a backdrop of changing values and priorities, and periodic federal government intervention.
The first local trade unions of men in the United States formed in the late eighteenth century, and women began organizing in the 1820s. Some of the earliest organizing by women occurred in Lowell, Massachusetts. In 1845, the trade union of the Lowell mills sent representatives to speak to the Massachusetts legislature about conditions in the factories, leading to the first governmental investigation into working conditions. The mill strikes of 1834 and 1836, while largely unsuccessful, involved upward of 2,000 workers and represented a substantial organizational effort. However, the movement came into its own after the Civil War, when the short-lived National Labor Union (NLU) became the first federation of American unions.
Knights of Labor
The first major effort to organize workers’ groups on a nationwide basis appeared with The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor in 1869. It started as a secret, ritualistic society organized by Philadelphia garment workers. The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor was open to all workers, including African Americans, women, and farmers. The Knights grew slowly until the organization succeeded in facing down the great railroad baron Jay Gould in an 1885 strike. Within a year, they added 500,000 workers to their rolls, far more than the thin leadership structure of the Knights could handle.
As membership expanded, the Knights began to function more as a labor union and less like a fraternal organization. Local assemblies began to emphasize cooperative enterprises and to initiate strikes to win concessions from employers. Powderly, Grand Master Workman of the Knights of Labor, opposed strikes as a “relic of barbarism,” but the size and the diversity of the Knights afforded local assemblies a great deal of autonomy.
Membership declined as the organization experienced problems of an autocratic structure, mismanagement, and unsuccessful strikes. Disputes between the skilled trade unionists, also known as ” craft unionists,” and the industrial unionists weakened the organization. The top leadership did not believe that strikes were an effective way to up the status of the working people, and failed to develop the infrastructure that was necessary to organize and coordinate the hundreds of strikes, walkouts, and job actions spontaneously erupting among the membership. The Knights failed in the highly visible Missouri Pacific strike in 1886.
American Federation of Labor and Samuel Gompers
The Knights of Labor soon fell into decline. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) gradually took their place in the labor movement. Rather than open its membership to everyone, the AFL, under former cigar-makers union official Samuel Gompers, focused on skilled workers. His objectives were “pure and simple”: increase wages, reduce hours, and improve working conditions. As such, Gompers helped turn the labor movement away from the socialist views earlier labor leaders had espoused. The AFL would gradually become a respected organization in the United States, although it would have nothing to do with unskilled laborers.
Gompers’s trade union philosophy and his devotion to collective bargaining with business proved to be too conservative for more radical leaders such as Ed Boyce, president of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), and later, WFM secretary-treasurer, Bill Haywood. In 1905, Haywood and the WFM helped to establish the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, whose members were known as ” Wobblies “), with the goal of organizing the entire working class. The IWW’s long-term goal was to supplant capitalism with a workers’ commonwealth. Nonetheless, when government abuses against the leaders of the WFM seemed too egregious, Gompers relented and offered assistance.
During the following decade, Gompers and his unions vigorously fought the Wobblies, and later cooperated with widespread government arrests of union leaders for the IWW’s militant opposition to the First World War. The IWW was practically defunct by 1920. He likewise fought the socialists, who believed workers and unions could never coexist with business interests and wanted to use the labor unions to advance their more radical political causes, typified by the presidential campaigns of Eugene V. Debs. By 1920, Gompers had largely marginalized the socialists’ role to a few unions, notably coal miners and the needle trades.
Racism and Sexism in the AFL
During its first years, the AFL admitted nearly every laboring group without discrimination. Gompers, notably, opened the AFL to radical and socialist workers and to some semiskilled and unskilled workers. Women, African Americans, and immigrants also joined in small numbers. But, by the 1890s, the AFL had begun to organize only skilled workers in craft unions and became an organization of white men. Although the AFL preached a policy of egalitarianism in regard to African-American workers, in reality, it actively discriminated against black workers. For instance, the AFL sanctioned the maintenance of segregated locals within its affiliates—particularly in the construction and railroad industries—a practice that often excluded black workers altogether from union membership and thus from employment in organized industries.
In many respects, the AFL’s treatment of women workers paralleled its policy toward black workers. The AFL never adopted a strict policy of gender exclusion and, at times, even came out in favor of women’s unionism. But despite such rhetoric, the AFL only halfheartedly supported women’s attempts to organize and, more often, took pains to keep women out of unions and the workforce altogether. Women who organized their own unions were often turned down in bids to join the federation, and even women who did join unions found them hostile or intentionally inaccessible. AFL unions often held meetings at night or in bars, when women might find it difficult or uncomfortable to attend, and male unionists often heckled women who tried to speak at meetings.
However, these attitudes gradually changed within the AFL due to the pressure of organized female workers. Women organized independent locals among New York hat makers, in the Chicago stockyards, and among Jewish and Italian waist makers, to name only three examples. Through the efforts of middle-class reformers and activists, often of the Women’s Trade Union League, these unions joined the AFL.
The Molly Maguires
In the 1870s, the Reading Railroad blamed the deals of two dozen mine foremen and administrators on a secret society of Irishmen called the “Molly Maguires.” Although the Reading Railroad hired a Pinkerton undercover detective to investigate, it is highly probable that most of the men accused and executed for being Molly Maguires were innocent. At the time, however, fears about the Molly Maguires enabled mine owners to destroy the miners’ union, the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association. This action, in conjunction with the Catholic Church’s decision to excommunicate any miners in the fraternal Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), crippled the ability of mine workers to organize in the Pennsylvania coalfields.
The Molly Maguires were a secret Irish-American organization that consisted mainly of coal miners. Many historians believe the “Mollies” were present in the coal fields of Pennsylvania in the United States between the time of the American Civil War until a series of arrests and trials from 1876 to 1878. The defendants were accused of kidnapping and other crimes, largely based on the allegations of powerful industrialist Franklin B. Gowen and the testimony of Pinkerton detective James McParland. The defendants were arrested by the Coal and Iron Police, who served under Gowen; Gowen, who was poised to gain financially from the destruction of the striking union, acted as prosecutor of some of the alleged Molly Maguires at their trials.
Molly Maguire history is sometimes presented as the persecution of an underground movement that was motivated by personal vendettas, and sometimes as a struggle between organized labor and powerful industrial forces. Whether membership in the Molly organization overlapped union membership to any appreciable extent remains open to conjecture
Early Labor Protests
Wage disputes have been the single-most common cause of strikes in the United States. However, American workers have gone on strike for many reasons, including efforts to win union recognition, shorten the workday, gain or maintain control over the work process, or improve working conditions. Strikes have been called to exclude nonwhites or women from jobs and, more rarely, to protest racial discrimination. The first citywide labor federations, formed in the 1820s and 1830s, grew out of strikes by artisans trying to shorten their workday.
In times of economic depression, layoffs and wage cuts angered the workers, leading to violent labor conflicts in 1877 and 1894. In the Great Railroad Strike in 1877, railroad workers across the nation went on strike in response to a 10 percent pay cut. Attempts to break the strike led to bloody uprisings in several cities. The Haymarket Affair took place in 1886. An anarchist apparently threw a bomb at police dispersing a strike rally at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago. The killing of policemen greatly embarrassed the Knights of Labor. They were not involved with the bomb but took most of the blame.
Carnegie’s steel works in Homestead, Pennsylvania, hired a group of 300 Pinkerton detectives to break a bitter strike by the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel, and Tin Workers. In the riots of 1892, they were fired upon by strikers and 10 of them were killed. As a result, the National Guard was called in to guard the plant. Nonunion workers were hired and the strike was broken. The Homestead plant completely barred unions until 1937.
Two years later, wage cuts at the Pullman Palace Car Company just outside of Chicago led to a strike. The strike, along with the support of the American Railway Union, soon brought the nation’s railway industry to a halt. The shutdown of rail traffic meant the virtual shutdown of the entire national economy, and President Grover Cleveland responded vigorously. He secured injunctions in federal court, which Debs and the other strike leaders ignored. Cleveland then sent in the army to stop the rioting and get the trains moving. The strike collapsed, as did the American Railway Union.
Anarchists in the United States, who fought within and alongside labor unions for workers rights, helped stage a demonstration in Chicago in 1886 that resulted in a deadly bombing.
Identify the Haymarket Affair
- In 1886, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) of the United States and Canada unanimously set May 1, 1886, as the date by which the eight-hour work day would become standard. Unions across the United States prepared a general strike.
- On May 4, a bomb was thrown at a rally in support of the strike in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. The resulting fatal violence and executions of the accused were a setback for the labor movement.
- An attempt in 1890 to organize an international rally for the eight-hour day resulted in the establishment of the tradition of celebrating International Workers’ Day on May Day (May 1).
- The First International: An organization of workers’ groups founded in Europe in 1864. Some of its ideological branches were influential in American socialist and anarchist politics.
- anarcho-syndicalist: An adherent to the branch of anarchism that favors the organization of the economy into syndicates, or economic co-ops.
- Haymarket Affair: The aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on Tuesday May 4, 1886, in Chicago.
Anarchism is a political philosophy that advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary institutions. These often are described as stateless societies, although several authors have defined them more specifically as institutions based on non-hierarchical free associations. Anarchism considers the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful. While anti-statism is central, anarchism also entails opposing authority or hierarchical organization in the conduct of all human relations, including, but not limited to, the state system.
The International Workingmen’s Association, often called the “First International,” was an international organization that aimed at uniting a variety of different left-wing socialist, communist, and anarchist political groups and trade union organizations that were based on the working class and class struggle. It was founded in 1864 in a workmen’s meeting held in St Martin’s Hall, London. Its first congress was held in 1866 in Geneva. The anti-authoritarian sections of the First International were the precursors of the anarcho-syndicalists, who sought to, “replace the privilege and authority of the State,” with the, “free and spontaneous organization of labor.” In 1886, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labour Unions (FOTLU) of the United States and Canada unanimously set May 1, 1886, as the date by which the eight-hour work day would become standard.
The Haymarket Affair
In response, unions across the United States prepared a general strike in support of the event. On May 3, in Chicago, a fight broke out when strikebreakers attempted to cross the picket line, and two workers died when police opened fire upon the crowd. The next day, May 4, anarchists staged a rally at Chicago’s Haymarket Square. A bomb was thrown by an unknown party near the conclusion of the rally, killing an officer. In the ensuing panic, police opened fire on the crowd. Seven police officers and at least four workers were killed. Eight anarchists, directly and indirectly related to the organizers of the rally, were arrested and charged with the murder of the deceased officer. The men became international political celebrities among the labor movement. Four of the men were executed and a fifth committed suicide prior to his own execution. The incident became known as the Haymarket Affair, and was a setback for the labor movement and the struggle for the eight-hour day.
In 1890, a second attempt, this time international in scope, to organize for the eight-hour day was made. The event also had the secondary purpose of memorializing workers killed as a result of the Haymarket Affair. Although it had initially been conceived as a one-off event, by the following year, the celebration of International Workers’ Day on May Day had become firmly established as an international worker’s holiday.
Socialism and the Unions
Socialism and labor were interconnected movements during the Gilded Age.
Evaluate the relationship between socialism and labor during the Gilded Age
- Socialism, which as a political philosophy is based on the ideas of eliminating the exploitation of labor by employers and consolidating the political power of laborers, sometimes overlapped with union and pro-labor activities in the United States.
- The 1894 Pullman Strike was a coordinated effort to shut down the national railroad system and the greatest strike of the Gilded Age.
- After 1870, unions grew steadily in industrial centers.
- Socialism: A political philosophy and form of governance that promotes social ownership and democratic control of the means of production.
- Wobblies: An international labor union that was founded in 1905 with ties to both socialist and anarchist labor movements.
- Eugene Debs: An American union leader, one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or the Wobblies), and several times the candidate of the Socialist Party of America for president of the United States.
- Daniel De Leon: An American socialist newspaper editor, politician, Marxist theorist, and trade union organizer. He was the leading figure in the Socialist Labor Party of America from 1890 until his death in 1914.
Socialism is a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership and democratic control of the means of production, as well as the political ideologies, theories, and movements that aim at their establishment. Socialism often overlapped with union and labor activities. For instance, the Industrial Workers of the World was a labor union that was founded by many notable socialists including Eugene Debs, “Mother” Mary Harris Jones, and Daniel De Leon. Labor unions were concerned with equal rights for workers, while socialists wanted to ensure more equality for all groups in society.
The Industrial Workers of the World
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), also known as the ” Wobblies,” is an international union. IWW membership does not require that one work in a represented workplace nor does it exclude membership in another labor union. The IWW contends that all workers should be united as a class and that the wage system should be abolished. They are known for the Wobbly Shop model of workplace democracy, in which workers elect their managers and other forms of grassroots democracy (self-management) are implemented.
The IWW was founded in Chicago in June 1905 at a convention of 200 socialists, anarchists, and radical trade unionists from all over the United States who were opposed to the policies of the American Federation of Labor ( AFL ).
The IWW’s goal was to promote worker solidarity in the revolutionary struggle to overthrow the employing class. The Wobblies’ motto was, “an injury to one is an injury to all,” which improved upon the nineteenth-century Knights of Labor ‘s creed, “an injury to one is the concern of all.” In particular, the IWW was organized because of the belief among many unionists, socialists, anarchists, and radicals that the AFL not only had failed to effectively organize the American working class, as only about 5 percent of all workers belonged to unions in 1905, but also was organizing according to narrow craft principles that divided groups of workers.
The Wobblies differed from other union movements of the time in its promotion of industrial unionism, as opposed to the craft unionism of the AFL. The IWW emphasized rank-and-file organization, as opposed to empowering leaders who would bargain with employers on behalf of workers. This manifested itself in the early IWW’s consistent refusal to sign contracts, which they felt would restrict workers’ abilities to aid each other when called upon. Though never developed in any detail, Wobblies envisioned the general strike as the means by which the wage system would be overthrown and a new economic system ushered in, one which emphasized people over profit, and cooperation over competition.
One of the IWW’s most important contributions to the labor movement and broader push toward social justice was that, when founded, it was the only American union (besides the Knights of Labor) to welcome all workers including women, immigrants, African Americans, and Asians into the same organization. Indeed, many of its early members were immigrants, and some, such as Carlo Tresca, Joe Hill, and Mary Jones, rose to prominence in the leadership.
Laurence Gronlund was an American lawyer and socialist. Gronlund was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 13, 1846. He graduated from the Law School of the University of Copenhagen in 1865, and moved to the United States in 1867. He taught German in Milwaukee until he was admitted to the bar in 1869, at which point he began practicing law in Chicago.
Gronlund was converted to socialism by Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, and gave up the practice of law to write and lecture on socialism. He was closely connected with the work of the Socialist Labor Party from 1874 to 1884, after which he devoted himself almost exclusively to lecturing. This ended with his appointment to a post in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. After his period of civil service, he again returned to the lecture field, and was an editorial writer for the New York American and Chicago American from 1898 until his death in New York City, on October 15, 1899.
Gronlund considered the United States more advanced, and therefore better fitted for a socialistic regime, than any other country. The only obstacle he saw was the nation’s race problem. That being said, he thought that social equality between the black and white races could and would be established. He thought a vast national organization, composed of energetic young men from every locality, could bring about a peaceful revolution in a few years.
Edward Bellamy was an American author and socialist, most famous for his utopian novel, Looking Backward, a Rip Van Winkle-like tale set in the distant future (the year 2000). Bellamy’s vision of a harmonious future world inspired the formation of more than 160 “Nationalist Clubs” dedicated to the propagation of Bellamy’s political ideas. These clubs worked to bring about Bellamy’s predicted world.
Bellamy claimed he did not write Looking Backward as a blueprint for political action, but instead as, “a literary fantasy, a fairy tale of social felicity.” In spite of this, the book inspired legions of readers to establish these Nationalist Clubs, the first of which began in Boston in 1888.
Bellamy depicted a country relieved of its social ills through the abandonment of the principle of competition and the establishment of state ownership of industry. This vision proved an appealing panacea to a generation of intellectuals alienated from the dark side of Gilded Age America. By 1891, it was reported that no fewer than 162 Nationalist Clubs were in existence. Bellamy himself came to actively participate in the political movement that emerged around his book, particularly after 1891, when he founded his own magazine, The New Nation. At this time, Bellamy began to promote united action between the various Nationalist Clubs and the emerging People’s Party.
For the next three and a half years, Bellamy devoted his time to politics, published his magazine, worked to influence the platform of the People’s Party, and publicized the Nationalist movement in the popular press. This phase of Bellamy’s life came to an end in 1894, when The New Nation was forced to suspend publication because of financial difficulties.
With key Nationalist Club activists largely absorbed into the apparatus of the People’s Party, Bellamy abandoned politics and returned to literature. He set to work on a sequel to Looking Backward, entitled Equality, attempting to deal with the ideal society of the post-revolutionary future in greater detail. The book was printed in 1898 and was Bellamy’s final creation.
The Working Woman
In 1870, women were 15 percent of the total workforce, primarily assuming roles as factory workers, teachers, dressmakers, milliners, and tailors.
Assess the expanding role of women in industrial America
- The Industrial Revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries changed the nature of work for women in Europe and other countries of the Western world, as working for a wage, and eventually a salary, became part of urban life.
- The General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), founded in 1890, was dedicated to women’s self-education, development, and volunteer and service works.
- The General Federation of Women’s Clubs was a strong lobbying force for women’s suffrage.
- Support for political machines declined late in the Gilded Age as they failed to recruit from among the new waves of immigrants.
- During the 1910s and 1920s, women delayed childbirth for economic opportunities that were present in urban areas.
- A study of women college graduates in the twentieth century concluded that those graduating between 1900 and 1920 had to make, “a distinct choice between family and career.”
- General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC): An international women’s organization, founded in 1890, dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service. GFWC is one of the world’s largest and oldest nonpartisan, nondenominational women’s volunteer service organizations.
The Industrial Revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries changed the nature of work for women in Europe and other countries of the Western world. Working for a wage, and eventually a salary, became part of urban life.
The 1870 U.S. census was the first to count “females engaged in each occupation” and provides an intriguing snapshot of women’s history. It reveals that, contrary to popular belief, not all American women of the nineteenth century were either idle in their middle-class homes or working in sweatshops. Women were 15 percent of the total workforce (1.8 million out of 12.5). They made up one-third of factory “operatives,” but teaching and the occupations of dressmaking, millinery, and tailoring played a larger role. Two-thirds of teachers were women. Women defied the stereotypes of the time by working in iron and steel works, mines, sawmills, oil wells and refineries, gas works, and charcoal kilns. Some even held jobs as ship riggers, teamsters, turpentine laborers, brass founders/workers, shingle and lathe makers, stock-herders, gunsmiths and locksmiths, and hunters and trappers.
In nineteenth-century farm settings, children were an important part of their families’ agricultural livelihoods. As industrialization occurred and families shifted from rural agricultural settings to urban ones, the number of children per household also declined. Children became less of an economic benefit and more of a cost: Urban life necessitated educating children, which was costly.
During the 1910s and 1920s, women delayed childbirth for economic opportunities that were present in urban areas. However, this trend reversed during the Great Depression because of the lower number of economic opportunities available for women. As a result, Depression Era women were more likely to marry and have children earlier. In 1900, roughly 40 percent of single women were employed versus only 5 percent of married women. This 35-percent gap persisted for many years. A study of women college graduates in the twentieth century concluded that those graduating between 1900 and 1920 had to make, “a distinct choice between family and career.”
General Federation of Women’s Clubs
The General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), founded in 1890, is an international women’s organization dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service. GFWC is one of the world’s largest and oldest nonpartisan, nondenominational women’s volunteer service organizations.
The group holds a congressional charter under Title 36 of the U.S. Code. History of the GFWC traces its roots back to Jane Cunningham Croly, a New York newspaperwoman who wrote under the pen name of “Jennie June.” Indignant that she and other women were denied admittance to a banquet honoring Charles Dickens in 1868 at the all-male New York Press Club simply because they were women, she resolved to organize a club for women only.
The name initially chosen for this club was “Sorosis,” a Greek word meaning, “an aggregation, a sweet flavor of many fruits.” As Sorosis approached its 21st year, Mrs. Croly proposed a conference in New York that brought together delegates from 61 women’s clubs. On the last day of the conference, the women took action to form a permanent organization. A committee to draft a constitution and plan of organization to be ratified the following year was chosen, with Sorosis president, Ella Dietz Clymer, presiding. The constitution was adopted in 1890, and the General Federation of Women’s Clubs was born. It was chartered in 1901 by the U.S. Congress.
Ella Dietz Clymer holds a particular place of honor in Federation history as the author of the GFWC motto “Unity in Diversity.” Speaking to the delegates at the first conference, she said, “We look for unity, but unity in diversity. We hope that you will enrich us by your varied experiences.” The aptness of the motto is evident in the diverse interests of GFWC members, who have implemented a broad range of programs and projects tailored to meet the needs of their communities. It set the tone for the flexibility that has allowed the GFWC to grow and adapt its volunteer work to the changing and diverse lifestyles and concerns of women throughout the country.
Local women’s clubs initially joined the General Federation directly but later came into membership through state federations that began forming in 1892. The GFWC also counts international clubs among its members. Although women’s clubs were founded primarily as a means of self-education and development for women, the emphasis of most local clubs gradually changed to one of community service and improvement.
While not every state in the country has a local women’s club, several have remained very active over the last 110 years. The state of Maryland chapter, for example, is held in high regard by the General Federation. In a time when women’s rights were suppressed, the State Federation chapters held grassroots efforts to make sure women’s voices were heard. Through everything from monthly group meetings to annual charter meetings, women of influential status within their communities could voice their feelings. They were able to meet with state officials in order to have a say in the ongoings of community events. Until the right to vote was granted, these women’s clubs were the best outlet for women to be heard and taken seriously.
During the Industrial Revolution, children as young as four were employed in factories with dangerous, and often fatal, working conditions.
Analyze child labor during the Industrial Revolution
- The term “child labor” refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives them of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and is mentally, physically, socially, or morally dangerous and harmful.
- As the United States industrialized, factory owners hired young workers for a variety of tasks. Especially in textile mills, children were often hired together with their parents.
- Child labor became an issue in the early twentieth century, with the National Child Labor Committee pushing for the abolition of all child labor in exchange for compulsory education.
- National Child Labor Committee: A private, nonprofit organization that was the leading proponent of national child labor reform during the Progressive Era.
- Compulsory Education: A period of education that is required of every person.
The term “child labor” refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives them of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and is mentally, physically, socially, or morally dangerous and harmful. This practice is considered exploitative by many international organizations. Legislations across the world prohibit child labor. These laws do not consider all work by children as child labor; exceptions include work by child artists, supervised training, and other categories of work such as those completed by Amish children.
During the Industrial Revolution, children as young as four were employed in production factories with dangerous, and often fatal, working conditions. In coal mines, children would crawl through tunnels that were too narrow and low to accommodate adults. Children also worked as errand boys, crossing sweepers, and shoe blacks, or they worked selling matches, flowers, and other cheap goods. Some children undertook work as apprentices to respectable trades such as building or as domestic servants.
As the United States industrialized, factory owners hired young workers for a variety of tasks. Especially in textile mills, children were often hired together with their parents. Many families in mill towns depended on the children’s labor to make enough money for necessities.
Abolishing Child Labor
The National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), an organization dedicated to the abolition of all child labor, was formed in 1904. By publishing information about the lives and working conditions of young workers, the NCLC helped mobilize popular support for state-level child labor laws. These laws often were paired with compulsory education laws that were designed to keep children in school and out of the paid labor market until a specified age (usually 12, 14, or 16 years).
In 1916, the NCLC and the National Consumers League successfully pressured the U.S. Congress to pass the Keating-Owen Act, which was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson. It was the first federal child labor law. However, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law two years later in Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918), declaring that the law violated the Commerce Clause by regulating intrastate commerce. In 1924, Congress attempted to pass a constitutional amendment that would authorize a national child labor law. This measure was blocked, and the bill was eventually dropped.
It took the Great Depression to end child labor nationwide; adults had become so desperate for jobs that they would work for the same wage as children. In 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which, among other things, placed limits on many forms of child labor. However, The 1938 labor law giving protections to working children excludes agriculture. As a result, approximately 500,000 children pick almost a quarter of the food currently produced in the United States.
Alongside the abolition of child labor, compulsory education laws also kept children out of abusive labor conditions. The school system remained largely private and unorganized until the 1840s. Public schools were always under local control, with no federal role, and a limited state role. However, by 1900, 34 states had compulsory schooling laws, 4 of which were in the South. 30 states with compulsory schooling laws required attendance until age 14 (or older). As a result, by 1910, 72 percent of American children attended school. Half the nation’s children attended one-room schools. In 1918, every state required students to complete elementary school.
Coxey’s Army was a protest march by unemployed workers from the United States, led by Ohio businessman Jacob Coxey.
Assess the significance of Coxey’s Army
- Ohio businessman Jacob Coxey led a march of unemployed workers to protest in Washington, D.C., in 1894. The group became known as ” Coxey’s Army.”
- The purpose of the march was to protest the unemployment caused by the Panic of 1893 and to lobby for the government to create jobs that would involve building roads and other public works improvements.
- Many of the unemployed were railroad workers who blamed monetary policies and railroad companies for their problems.
- Coxey’s Army: A protest march by unemployed workers on Washington, D.C., in 1894. The march, intended to protest unemployment and President Cleveland’s economic policies, was prevented from reaching the capital by the U.S. Army.
- Jacob Coxey: An Ohio businessman who led a march on Washington to protest unemployment. Though the marches were unsuccessful, they did spark political interest in governmental action against unemployment, an issue integral to the New Deal, 40 years later.
Coxey’s Army was a protest march by unemployed workers from the United States, led by Ohio businessman Jacob Coxey. The workers marched on Washington, D.C., in 1894, the second year of a four-year economic depression that was the worst in U.S. history up to that time. Officially named the “Army of the Commonweal in Christ,” the march’s nickname, “Coxey’s Army,” came from its leader and was more enduring. It was the first significant popular protest march on Washington, and the expression, “Enough food to feed Coxey’s Army” originates from this march.
The purpose of the march was to protest the unemployment caused by the Panic of 1893 and to lobby for the government to create jobs that would involve building roads and other public works improvements. The protesters also demanded that workers be paid in paper currency, which would expand the currency in circulation, consistent with populist ideology. The march originated with 100 men in Massillon, Ohio, on March 25, 1894. It passed through Pittsburgh, Becks Run, and Homestead, Pennsylvania, in April.
The march’s western section received the nickname “Kelly’s Army,” after California leader “General” Charles T. Kelly. Although larger at its outset, Kelly’s Army lost members on its long journey; few made it past the Ohio River. Various groups from around the country gathered to join the march, and its number had grown to 500 with more on the way from further west when it reached Washington on April 30, 1894. The 260-acre Shreve farm site at current day Colmar Manor, Maryland, was used by the 6,000 jobless men as a camp site. Coxey and other leaders of the movement were arrested the next day for walking on the grass of the U.S. Capitol. Interest in the march and protest rapidly dwindled.
Some of the most militant Coxeyites were those who formed their own “armies” in Pacific Northwest centers such as Butte, Tacoma, Spokane, and Portland. Many of these protesters were unemployed railroad workers who blamed their plight on railroad companies, President Cleveland’s monetary policies, and excessive freight rates. The climax of this movement was perhaps on April 21, 1894, when William Hogan and approximately 500 followers commandeered a Northern Pacific Railway train for their trek to Washington, D.C. They enjoyed support along the way, which enabled them to fight off the federal marshals attempting to stop them. Federal troops finally apprehended the Hoganites near Forsyth, Montana. While the protesters never made it to the capital, the military intervention they provoked proved to be a rehearsal for the federal force that broke the Pullman Strike later that year.
The Railroad Strikes
The Great Railroad Strike of 1877, also called “The Great Upheaval,” spanned 45 days and four states and caused the deaths of many strikers.
Analyze the two railroad strikes that occurred during the Gilded Age
- In Pittsburgh and Reading, Pennsylvania, militiamen fired on strikers, killing several.
- In all of these places, the workers fought back, burning railcars, rail-yard buildings, and railway bridges. In some cities, workers were joined in support by people from the local community.
- In both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, as well as in Chicago and Saint Louis, federal troops were eventually sent to subdue the strikers.
- Federal troops defeated the strikers in city after city, and the great strike soon lost momentum.
- Seventeen years later, the Pullman Strike shut down much of the nation’s freight and passenger traffic west of Detroit, Michigan.
- Reading Railroad Massacre: An action by the Pennsylvania State Militia, quelling a riot in Reading, Pennsylvania, during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.
The Great Railroad Strike of 1877, sometimes referred to as “The Great Upheaval,” began on July 14 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in response to the cutting of wages for the second time in a year by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Striking workers would not allow any of the stock to roll until this second wage cut was revoked. The governor sent in state militia units to restore train service, but the soldiers refused to use force against the strikers and the governor called for federal troops.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, became the site of the worst violence. Thomas Alexander Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad, often considered one of the first robber barons, suggested that the strikers should be given, “a rifle diet for a few days and see how they like that kind of bread.” However, local law enforcement officers refused to fire on the strikers.
Nonetheless, Scott’s request came to pass on July 21, when militiamen bayoneted and fired on rock-throwing strikers, killing 20 people and wounding 29 others. Rather than quell the uprising, this action merely infuriated the strikers who then forced the militiamen to take refuge in a railroad roundhouse, and set fires that razed 39 buildings and destroyed 104 locomotives and 1,245 freight and passenger cars. On July 22, the militiamen mounted an assault on the strikers, shooting their way out of the roundhouse and killing 20 more people on their way out of the city. After more than a month of constant rioting and bloodshed, President Rutherford B. Hayes sent in federal troops to end the strikes.
Three hundred miles to the east, in Philadelphia, strikers battled local militia and set fire to much of Center City before federal troops intervened and put down the uprising.
Pennsylvania’s third major industrial city at the time, Reading, was also hit by the fury. This city was home of the engine works and shops of its namesake Reading Railroad, against which engineers had already been on strike since April 1877. Sixteen citizens were shot by state militia in the Reading Railroad Massacre. Preludes to the massacre include the following: fresh work stoppage of all classes of the railroad’s local workforce, mass marches, the blockage of rail traffic, train-yard arson, and the burning down of the bridge providing this railroad’s only link to the West (this prevented local militia from being mustered to Harrisburg or Pittsburgh). The militia responsible for the shootings was mobilized by Reading Railroad management, not by local public officials.
On July 24, rail traffic in Chicago was paralyzed when angry mobs of unemployed citizens wreaked havoc in the rail yards, shutting down both the Baltimore and Ohio and the Illinois Central Railroads. Soon, other railroads were brought to a standstill, with demonstrators shutting down railroad traffic in Bloomington, Aurora, Peoria, Decatur, Urbana, and other rail centers throughout Illinois. In sympathy, coal miners in the pits at Braidwood, LaSalle, Springfield, and Carbondale went on strike as well. In Chicago, the Workingmen’s Party organized demonstrations that drew crowds of 20,000 people.
Judge Thomas Drummond of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, who was overseeing numerous railroads that had declared bankruptcy in the wake of the Panic of 1873, ruled that, “A strike or other unlawful interference with the trains will be a violation of the United States law, and the court will be bound to take notice of it and enforce the penalty.” Drummond told federal marshals to protect the railroads, and asked for federal troops to enforce his decision: He subsequently had strikers arrested and then tried them for contempt of court.
The mayor of Chicago, Monroe Heath, asked for 5,000 vigilantes to help restore order (they were partially successful), and shortly thereafter, the National Guard and federal troops arrived. On July 25, violence between police and the mob erupted with events reaching a peak the following day. These blood-soaked confrontations between police and enraged mobs occurred at the Halsted Street viaduct, at nearby 16th Street, at Halsted and 12th, and on Canal Street. The headline of the Chicago Times read, “Terrors Reign, The Streets of Chicago Given Over to Howling Mobs of Thieves and Cutthroats.” Order was finally restored, however, with the deaths of nearly 20 men and boys, the wounding of scores more, and the loss of property valued in the millions of dollars.
On July 21, disgruntled workers in the industrial rail hub of East St. Louis, Missouri, halted all freight traffic, with the city remaining in the control of the strikers for almost a week.
In response, the St. Louis Workingmen’s Party led a group of approximately 500 people across the Missouri River in an act of solidarity with the nearly 1,000 workers on strike. That act transformed an initial strike among railroad workers into a strike by thousands of workers in several industries for the eight-hour day and a ban on child labor. This strike was the first general strike in the United States.
The strike on both sides of the river ended when some 3,000 federal troops and 5,000 deputized special police killed at least 18 people in skirmishes around the city. On July 28, 1877, they took control of the Relay Depot, the Commune ‘s command center, and arrested some 70 strikers.
The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 began to lose momentum when President Hayes sent federal troops from city to city. These troops suppressed strike after strike, until at last, approximately 45 days after it had started, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 was over.
The Pullman Strike
The Pullman Strike was a nationwide conflict between labor unions and railroad companies that occurred in the United States in 1894. The conflict began in the town of Pullman, Illinois, on May 11, when nearly 4,000 employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company began a wildcat strike in response to recent reductions in wages, bringing traffic west of Chicago to a halt. Many of the workers were already members of the American Railway Union (ARU), led by Eugene V. Debs, which supported their strike by launching a boycott: Union members refused to run trains containing Pullman cars. The strike effectively shut down production in the Pullman factories and led to a lockout. Railroad workers across the nation refused to switch Pullman cars, and subsequently Wagner Palace cars, onto trains. The ARU declared that if switchmen were disciplined for the boycott, the entire ARU would strike in sympathy. The boycott was launched on June 26, 1894. Within four days, 125,000 workers on 29 railroads quit work rather than handle Pullman cars. Adding fuel to the fire, the railroad companies began hiring replacement workers (strikebreakers), which only increased hostilities.
Breaking the Strike
The railroads succeeded in having Richard Olney, general counsel for the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway, appointed as a special federal attorney responsible for dealing with the strike. Olney obtained an injunction barring union leaders from supporting the strike, demanding that the strikers cease their activities or face being fired. Debs and other leaders of the ARU ignored the injunction, and federal troops were called into action. The strike was broken up by U.S. marshals and 12,000 U.S. Army troops, commanded by Nelson Miles. The troops were sent in by President Grover Cleveland, who claimed that the strike interfered with the delivery of U.S. mail, violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, and represented a threat to public safety. The arrival of the military and subsequent deaths of workers led to further outbreaks of violence. During the course of the strike, 13 strikers were killed and 57 were wounded. About 6,000 rail workers inflicted property damage estimated at $340,000 (about $8,818,000 in 2010 dollars).
The Homestead Strike
The Homestead Strike of 1892 was organized and purposeful; it was the second-largest labor dispute in U.S. history.
Describe the Homestead Strike
- The Homestead Strike was organized and purposeful, presaging modern-day labor disputes.
- When Henry Clay Frick, who was managing the Homestead steel mill for Andrew Carnegie, locked the striking workers out of the plant, the workers temporarily succeeded in preventing replacement workers from entering the plant.
- Workers then won a second victory against Pinkerton security agents hired by Frick. Supported by the townspeople, the workers drove the Pinkertons away.
- Pennsylvania Governor Pattison, elected with Carnegie’s support, called in the state militia to protect the plant. With the militia standing guard, Frick was able to bring in strikebreaking workers and reopen the plant.
- Alexander Berkman, an anarchist with no connection to steel or organized labor, managed to shoot and stab Frick in an assassination attempt. Frick survived, but the attack undermined public support for the strike. Shortly thereafter, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) abandoned the strikers.
- Henry Clay Frick: An American industrialist and financier who was chairman of U.S. Steel during the Homestead Strike of 1892. He is widely vilified for his ruthlessness and lack of business ethics.
- Alexander Berkman: A writer and political activist and leader of the anarchist movement in the early twentieth century. He was jailed for 14 years in the United States for the attempted murder of Henry Frick, head of U.S. Steel, before being deported to Russia.
- Pinkerton agents: A private security and detective agency founded in 1850 who employers often used in labor disputes to infiltrate unions, guard factories, and enforce strikebreaking measures.
The strike by the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (AA) at the Homestead steel mill in 1892 was different from previous large-scale strikes in American history, such as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and the Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886. Earlier strikes had been largely leaderless and disorganized mass uprisings of workers. The Homestead Strike, however, was organized and purposeful, a harbinger of the type of strike that would mark the modern age of labor relations in the United States.
Andrew Carnegie, owner of Carnegie Steel, placed industrialist Henry Clay Frick in charge of his company’s operations in 1881. With the collective bargaining agreement due to expire on June 30, 1892, Frick and the leaders of the local AA union entered into negotiations in February. With the steel industry doing well and prices higher, the AA asked for a wage increase; Frick immediately countered with a 22 percent wage decrease that would affect nearly half of the union’s membership and remove a number of positions from the bargaining unit. Frick announced on April 30, 1892, that he would bargain for 29 more days. If no contract was reached, Carnegie Steel would cease to recognize the union. Then Frick offered a slightly better wage scale and advised the superintendent to tell the workers, “We do not care whether a man belongs to a union or not, nor do we wish to interfere. He may belong to as many unions or organizations as he chooses, but we think our employees at Homestead Steel Works would fare much better working under the system in vogue at Edgar Thomson and Duquesne.”
On the evening of June 28, 1892, Frick locked workers out of the plate mill and one of the open hearth furnaces. When no collective bargaining agreement was reached on June 29, Frick locked the union out of the rest of the plant. The Knights of Labor, which had organized the mechanics and transportation workers at Homestead, agreed to walk out alongside the skilled workers of the AA. Workers at Carnegie plants in Pittsburgh, Duquesne, Union Mills, and Beaver Falls went on strike in sympathy the same day.
The striking workers were determined to keep the plant closed. Picket lines were thrown up around the plant and the town, and 24-hour shifts established. Frick placed ads for replacement workers in newspapers as far away as Boston, St. Louis, and even Europe.
In April 1892, Frick contracted with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to provide security at the plant. His intent was to open the works with nonunion men on July 6. Carnegie corporate attorney Philander Knox devised a plan to get the Pinkertons onto the mill property. Three hundred agents assembled on the Davis Island Dam on the Ohio River about five miles below Pittsburgh at 10:30 p.m. on the night of July 5, 1892. They were given Winchester rifles, placed on two specially equipped barges, and towed upriver.
The strikers were prepared for them; the AA had learned of the Pinkertons as soon as they had left Boston for the embarkation point. The strikers blew the plant whistle at 2:30 a.m., drawing thousands of men, women, and children to the plant.
The Pinkertons attempted to disembark again at 8:00 a.m. when a striker high up the riverbank fired a shot. The Pinkertons returned fire and four more strikers were killed (one by shrapnel sent flying when cannon fire hit one of the barges). After three agents were shot, many of the Pinkertons refused to continue the firefight. Intermittent gunfire from both sides continued throughout the morning. More than 300 riflemen positioned themselves on the high ground and kept a steady stream of fire on the barges. Just before noon, a sniper shot killed another Pinkerton agent.
At 4:00 p.m., events at the mill quickly began to wind down. The Pinkertons, too, wished to surrender. At 5:00 p.m., they raised a white flag and two agents asked to speak with the strikers. O’Donnell, a heater in the plant and head of the union’s strike committee, guaranteed them safe passage out of town. Their arms were stripped from them, and as the Pinkertons crossed the grounds of the mill, the crowd formed a gauntlet through which the agents passed. Men and women threw sand and stones at the Pinkerton agents, spat on them, and beat them. Several Pinkertons were clubbed unconscious. Members of the crowd ransacked the barges, then burned them to the waterline.
The steelworkers resolved to meet the militia with open arms, hoping to establish good relations with the troops. But the militia managed to keep its arrival in the town a secret almost to the last moment. Within 20 minutes they had displaced the picketers; by 10:00 a.m., company officials were back in their offices.
On July 15, the company brought in strikebreakers and new employees (many of them black), relit the furnaces, and restarted production under the protection of the militia. But a race war between nonunion black and white workers in the Homestead plant broke out on July 22, 1892. Desperate to find a way to continue the strike, the AA appealed to Whitelaw Reid, the Republican candidate for vice president, on July 16. The AA offered to make no demands or set any preconditions; the union merely asked that Carnegie Steel reopen the negotiations. Frick, too, needed a way out of the strike. The company could not operate for long with strikebreakers living on the mill grounds, and permanent replacements had to be found.
On July 18, the town was placed under martial law, further disheartening many of the strikers. National attention became riveted on Homestead when Alexander Berkman, a New York anarchist with no connection to steel or to organized labor, plotted with his lover, Emma Goldman, to assassinate Frick. He came in from New York, gained entrance to Frick’s office, and then shot and stabbed the executive. Frick survived and continued his role.
The Berkman assassination attempt undermined public support for the union and prompted the final collapse of the strike. The union voted to go back to work on Carnegie’s terms; the strike had failed and the union had collapsed.
The Cripple Creek Miners’ Strike of 1894
The Cripple Creek Miners’ Strike of 1894 resulted in a victory for the union, due to the support of Populist Party governor, Davis Waite.
Describe the events of the Cripple Creek Miners’ Strike of 1894
- The strike is notable as the only time in U.S. history when a state militia was called out in support of (rather than against) striking workers.
- The strike was characterized by firefights and the use of dynamite, and ended after a standoff between the Colorado State Militia and a private force working for the mine owners.
- In the years after the strike, the Western Federation of Miners’ popularity and power increased significantly throughout the region.
- Governor Davis H. Waite: The Populist Party governor of Colorado during the Cripple Creek Miners’ Strike. When Sheriff Bowers of Colorado City raised a large army of strikebreaking deputies, Waite ordered them to disband, and negotiated on behalf of the striking miners.
- Western Federation of Miners: A radical labor union that gained a reputation for militancy in the mines of the western United States and in British Columbia.
The Cripple Creek Miners’ Strike of 1894 was a five-month strike by the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) in Cripple Creek, Colorado. It resulted in a victory for the union. It is notable for being the only time in U.S. history when a state militia was called out in support of striking workers. The strike was characterized by firefights and the use of dynamite, and ended after a standoff between the Colorado State Militia and a private force working for owners of the mines. In the years after the strike, the WFM’s popularity and power increased significantly throughout the region.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Cripple Creek, with a population of about 15,000, was the second-largest town in Colorado. Along with the towns of Altman, Anaconda, Arequa, Goldfield, Elkton, Independence, and Victor, Cripple Creek lay in a deep valley about 20 miles from Colorado Springs on the southwest side of Pikes Peak. Surface gold was discovered in the area in 1891, and within three years, more than 150 mines were operating there. In 1893, the economic downturn, known as the Panic of 1893, caused the price of silver to crash. Gold prices, however, remained high, and gold was in fact desperately needed to replenish federal reserves. The influx of silver miners into the gold mines caused a lowering of wages. Mine owners demanded longer hours for less pay, and assigned miners to riskier work.
In January 1894, Cripple Creek mine owners J.J. Hagerman, David Moffat, and Eben Smith, who together employed one-third of the area’s miners, announced a lengthening of the work day to ten hours (from eight), with no change to the daily wage of $3.00 per day. When workers protested, the owners agreed to employ the miners for 8 hours a day, but at a wage of only $2.50.
Not long before this dispute, miners at Cripple Creek had formed the Free Coinage Union. Once the new changes went into effect, they affiliated with the Western Federation of Miners, and became Local 19. On February 1, 1894, the mine owners began implementing the 10-hour day. Union president John Calderwood issued a notice a week later demanding that the mine owners reinstate the eight-hour day at the $3.00 wage.
When the owners did not respond, the nascent union struck on February 7. Portland, Pikes Peak, Gold Dollar, and a few smaller mines immediately agreed to the eight-hour day and remained open, but larger mines held out.
The strike had an immediate effect. By the end of February, every smelter in Colorado was either closed or running part time. At the beginning of March, the Gold King and Granite mines gave in and resumed the eight-hour day. Mine owners still holding out for the 10-hour day soon attempted to reopen their mines. On March 14, they obtained a court injunction ordering the miners not to interfere with the operation of their mines, and brought in a small number of strikebreakers. The WFM initially attempted to persuade these men to join the union and strike, but when they were unsuccessful, the union resorted to threats and violence, succeeding in keeping the many non-union miners away.
The conflict escalated, as the mine owners recruited ex-police and ex-firefighters to form a private army, and miners resorted to dynamite and armed conflict. In a development unparalleled in American labor history, Colorado Governor Davis H. Waite declared the mine owners’ force of 1,200 deputies to be illegal and ordered the group disbanded on May 28. However, this army of deputies, organized by Sheriff Bowers, eventually got out of control, and state militia was again called in—this time to protect the miners and civilians of the town, and threatening to declare martial law. The deputies finally disbanded on June 11. The Waite agreement, providing for the resumption of the $3.00-per-day wage and the eight-hour day, became operative the same day, and the miners returned to work. Union president Calderwood and 300 other miners were arrested and charged with a variety of crimes. Only four miners were convicted of any charges, and they were quickly pardoned by the sympathetic populist governor.
The Cripple Creek strike was a major victory for the miners’ union. The Western Federation of Miners used the success of the strike to organize almost every worker in the Cripple Creek region—including waitresses, laundry workers, bartenders, and newsboys—into 54 local unions. The WFM flourished in the Cripple Creek area for almost a decade, even helping to elect most county officials, including the new sheriff.