Apush Essay "How Successful Was Organized Labor in Improving the Position of Workers in the Period from 1975-1900?"

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Matt Strigenz
Mr. Haindfield, pd. 5
APUSH Reaction Paper #10

The chief political issue of the late 1800s was working conditions for laborers. Big businesses, having sought to cut costs however possible, created horrible working conditions for laborers. In an effort to improve these conditions, workers waged strikes and formed labor unions, so that they might gain some semblance of bargaining power. However the fight to improve conditions for workers was largely ineffective thanks to public support of big business, disorganization amongst labor unions, and the negative connotation that came to be associated with labor unions.

The American public supported big business in almost every conflict involving big business and labor unions. Perhaps had the Railroad Strike of 1877 turned out differently, things would have been different for laborers. This was the first major interstate strike in the US, and originally the public had been on the side of the workers. However they collectively “blew it” when they started vandalizing property and blocking the railroad tracks. As a consequence, Americans turned against the strikers, and federal troops were sent in to end the strike (Source B). More importantly, however, the public would from then on acquire a sour taste when someone mentioned “strike.” Things were exasperated in the early 1890s with the Panic of 1893. Although strikes by laborers were a relatively minor cause of the crash, laborers took the brunt of the blame. Being the worst economic crash the US had yet seen, it left Americans smoldering at workers for more than a decade. Newspapers were constantly on the side of big business as well. Thomas Nast, a well-known political cartoonist known for despising big business and exposing political corruption, ridiculed labor unions as well (Source C). The fact that both the American public and newspapers did not support labor unions meant that the American government didn’t either. The Railroad Strike of...