The Industrial Revolution and the American Labor Movement;
The Driving Force of the American Dream.
The purpose of this paper will be to examine the Industrial Revolution and the American Labor Movement. From the conditions forced upon the workers of the Industrial Age which spawned this movement, to its present day status, we will examine the impact that this movement has had on the American worker as well as the movement’s importance in American history. Although we will examine the movement itself from conception to modern day we will focus on its impact of the success of the average American, to illustrate the fact that from its earliest days, the American Labor Movement has been the driving force of the American Dream. Before discussing the American Labor Movement it is first necessary to establish the conditions that prompted the need for the movement in the first place, which were the working conditions established during the Industrial Revolution. Surprisingly, there is much debate as to when the Industrial Revolution actually started in earnest. Some say that the popular idea of the Industrial Revolution being born in the mid- 18th century in Britain as the birth of the first Industrial Revolution is false, that the actual period known as the Industrial Revolution started as far back as 400 A.D. For the purpose of this paper we will not foray into this debate but instead look at the period in the mid- 18th century, specifically that which followed the development of the “Watt steam engine” in 1763, which was the first steam engine to efficiently replace water or air as an industrial drive mechanism and as such opened the door for further innovation as well as allowing industry to move beyond the riverbank, as the start of the Industrial Revolution. As a major driver of growth, the industrial period in Britain, once underway, was a phenomenon unparalleled in history as to the transformational effects it was responsible for creating within a country. What had originally been an economy based singularly on agriculture with a scattering of cottage industry was replaced, relatively overnight, with one dominated by industry and international trade. Population centers such as towns and cities sprang up as workers left the fields for steady employment and immigration increased drastically to satisfy the need for cheap labor. Along these same lines, the need for cheap labor in order to hold down cost, keep pace with demand and maximize profits set the stage for dramatic changes in the social structure in Great Britain as well as every other country including the United States that would later undergo its own industrial revolutionary period, which was the employment of not only men but also of women and children. Specifically in the case of children, they were employed in large numbers for meager wages because they were cheaper than their adult counterparts and were employed, in many cases in the most dangerous locations. A royal commission on labor in the United Kingdom dated from 1886 discussed this very topic: As the spinning machinery in textile factories and narrow passageways of coalmines required small physique, young children were inevitably found in those industrial workplaces. Also, it was profitable for the owners to employ children, for they cost little compared to adult, male workers. Therefore, childhood laborers constituted a considerable proportion of the entire population. For example, workers under the fifteen years of age have composed fifteen percent of the workforce in textiles and dying in 1851. Many started working as early as at the age of five and generally died before they were eighteen. (Booth, C, 1886) Also on the topic Peter Kirby, from the book “Child Labor in Britain, 1750-1870” cited a report from 1841 by the Children's Employment Commission which discussed working conditions in the mines: According to an interview conducted by the...
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