The American Labor Force of the Late 1800s and Early 1900s

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The American labor force of the late 1800s and early 1900s was weak, uneducated, and forever trapped by the low-pay and harsh conditions of work and life; there was virtually no way out, as explained in Thomas O’Donnell’s Testimony. Everyone was caught in a rut, starving and poor; hoping for a better future, yet knowing that nothing else awaited them. “How could [they] go…walk?” (O’Donnell 31).

“The poor people…the poor operatives” were being crushed down; they faced challenges and obstacles unlike any other (O’Donnell 33). The workers of the late 1800s and early 1900s were up against terrible conditions, in both their working environments and their everyday lives. Day after day they were paid little to nothing, most families living on less than “$150 a year”, and with no other means of income (O’Donnell 30). Men, fathers, worked everyday they could, but with strikes making work even less available, many were forced to work about “half the time” they had in previous years (O’Donnell 29). Making work even more difficult was the situation of “back boys” – boys “capable enough to work in a mill, to earn $.30 or $.40 a day” – which caused the discharge of men without capable boys, and the employment of men with them (O’Donnell 29). The “back boys” caused unneeded competition between the working class men; “the man who [had] a boy with him [stood] the best chance”, without a working boy, work was slim (O’Donnell 33). Despite the men’s working troubles, they still had families to take care of; “children” to cloth, “wood and coal” to find for their homes, and food to bring home to their families (O’Donnell 31 and 32). Most families lacked even the bare essentials, let alone the money to build a better future. With such little pay, there was no foreseeable way to get ahead; they “never saw over a $20 bill” how could anyone make a better life with that (O’Donnell 31)?

Reality was harsh for the labor force during the late 1800s and early 1900s; “one thousand” poor...
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