United States Labor Movement

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United States Labor Movement

The Labor Movement in the United States of America started in the formative years of our nation. Its purpose being to organize workers to strive for better working conditions, reasonable pay and better treatment in the workplace. From it’s beginnings in the early to mid nineteenth century during the Industrial Revolution to the modern era of today, the labor movement has fought hard forming labor parties and labor laws to give the American worker the rights they deserve.

One of the earliest and more influential of labor organizations came to be in 1860; The Knights of Labor. The Knights of Labor mission was to “inform, and support working families, and to organize them to better represent their rights” (The Knights of Labor, 2011, ¶1) By the end of the 1800s the Knights had become a national fixture and included all workers into the group such as lawyers, doctors, gamblers and bankers. The main focus of the Knights of Labor were to push for an eight-hour work day; to rid child labor from existence, to do away with convict contract labor as they opposed the source of cheap labor taking jobs away from workers who needed a job; and equal pay for all their workers. In the early goings, they were opposed to the use of strikes however that trend changed and work stoppages had become a very good tool to use. The Knights of Labor had reached its apex in 1886 with over 700,000 members however their organizational structure was not up to the task and the movement was all but abandoned. They remained a fixture in the labor movement until 1949 when the remaining members dropped their affiliation (The Knights of Labor, 2011).

The Labor Movement in the late 1800s experienced a number of incidents that escalated into violence. In 1877; railroad workers in West Virginia protested a ten percent wage cut leveled by Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The strike occurred during a time of economic depression and spread westward across the country. Attempts to control unruly crowds just made the worker protest stronger and ignited violence. To add to the walkouts and protests by the rail workers, sympathetic actions by other wage workers brought Chicago close to a state of general strike. As the tensions continued and the violence started to escalate between the workers and police, the mayor relied on the assistance of six companies from the U.S. Army infantry to quell the protests. Quiet was restored but only after eighteen people had died from the protest violence. (Foner, 1977) The Homestead Steel Strike of 1892 resulted in violence as well. This particular strike came about during a time of conflict between labor and management throughout the entire country. Workers belonging to the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers went on strike to protest a wage cut implemented by Andrew Carnegie’s Steel Company in Homestead, Pennsylvania. Henry Frick, the plants General Manager, was given unwavering support by Carnegie to do what he deemed fit, which was to cut wages and try to break the Amalgamated Association union. Of the 3,800 workers at the plant, only 750 belonged to the union; but 3,000 employees voted together for a workers strike. Henry Frick got word of the vote and built a fence around the steelworks plant with holes in the fence to fit rifles through and topped it with barbed wire and Frick had hired 300 Pinkerton detectives for protection of the plant. When workers got word of the newly hired police force, they mobilized and a fire fight between the two groups erupted. 3 detectives and 9 workers were laid to rest from the fighting. After the fighting stopped, the Governor ordered a state militia into Homestead. Four months after the strike started, the workers resources were severely depleted and they all returned to work. When the dust settled, the strike leaders were charged with murder while hundreds of others...
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