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Topics: Strike action, Trade union, Employment Pages: 5 (923 words) Published: January 15, 2014
Late 19th century America was a time of both prosperity and poverty. Although it is oftenremembered by people like Carnegie and Rockefeller, the majority of the population was a strugglingworking class. Entire families worked for 10 hours 7 days a week in hazardous work conditions just tohave enough money for dinner. As conditions worsened, reforms were formed by rising Labor Unions.The movement towards organized labor was unsuccessful in improving position of the working classdue to the failure of strikes, the inherent feeling of employee inferiority and the lack of governmentsupport.The labor unions drew attention to the status of the American worker and made an issue of whathad been mostly ignored such as the use of child labor and the general plight of workers whose wagesstagnated or fell while prices for the most basic goods continued to climb. Not soon after labor unions began to strike and cause havoc. In the 1860's, the National Labor Union was formed to unify workersin fighting for higher wages, an 8 hour work day and various social causes and it set the stage for manyfailing unions to come. In 1877, railroad workers in this union from across the country took part in anenormous strike that resulted in mass violence and very few reforms. Afterward, a editorial in The New York Times stated: “the strike is apparently hopeless, and must be regarded as nothing more that arash and spiteful demonstration of resentment by men too ignorant or too reckless to understand their own interests” (Doc B). A failure of this immense magnitude should have been enough to put it to a permanent halt, however, year after year, labor unions striked incessantly and failed miserably. In 1892,workers at the Homestead Steel Plant near Pittsburgh walked out on strike and caused the deaths of atleast two Pinkerton detectives and one civilian, among many other labor deaths (Doc G). The violentacts at Homestead not only failed to gain rights but also managed to shed negative light on their causesince non-strikers were harmed. After all these strikes were defeated, it was evident that organizedlabor was not successful and the workers had to find other means to improve their work conditions.The industrial gave more power to employers than the employees. It was believed that evenstrikes were evidence that employees were inferior to the much wiser and powerful employers. In 1883,in a testimony before the Senate Committee on Labor and Capital, a machinist said that "100 men areable to do now what it took 300 or 400 men to do fifteen years ago" in trying to explain hisinsignificance to the company he worked for (Document D). Since this was such an accepted way of thinking, when workers united and formed strikes, the Senate chose show no sympathy towards theworkers. The ineffectiveness of unions shows that the unions did not have a fundamental leadership toeven achieve success in the first step of changing the public's attitudes towards the workers positions.In Albert Hirschman's book Exit,Voice and Loyalty, he shed's a new point of view on the workers'strikes. People too often believe that workers have only one choice in the competitive job market: youdon't like your job, get another. However, there is another choice. You can go to your employer,individually or as a group, and say 'let's change what's not working'. That's voice. That's what theunions did. Of course, not all employers took the employee's grievance serious, in fact, many only toothis as a sign of employee inferiority.Most importantly, the failure of organized labor can be attributed to the negligence of the UnitedStates government in helping out workers. If the attitude of Americans was ever going to be changed,the government needed to take a roll in advocating free will and enforcing the importance of thelaborers in society. Since the government didn't support unions, they unions were demonized into "anti-American", "anti-capitalist" groups of people. Even Thomas Nast, a man who was...
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