The Development of Labor Movements
The economy of America significantly improved in both agriculture and industrial development during the last quarter of the 19th century between the years1865 and 1900. This historical period acted as transition from the previous civil wars that the states encountered to the development era where nation recorded significant progress that was spearheaded by political leaders and lead businessmen. This period presented to the entire world the rise of great politicians, employed individuals and business people. It also contributed to the successes of the then future of America, which came about in the middle of the 20th century making it the century for America. The drastic reforms that came about as a result of this steady transition that were wide ranging from economic, political and social, illustrates the need of a society to engage in positive activities that provide for even distribution of opportunities in terms of both service provision and wealth.
For inhabitants of America,this period enabled them to understand the nature of individuals ranging from their interests in regard to the development of the nation and more importantly, their greed. The characters of individuals had clear evidence of increased practices of corruption and greed for power. It also expressed severe cases of monopolistic displays from the business fraternity by expecting unrealistic profits and engaging in dubious market integration mechanisms. Politicians on their side did not display extremist leadership characters due to the lack of election framework that was to act as a guide for selecting local leaders (Clavin 796). They carried themselves around as if they were bosses and laid ground for the coming political duels. The politicians and influential people in the society also devised other mechanisms, which they used to manipulate the vast population and the labor forces to amass exorbitant wealth in their favor. The wealth they made would later serve as capital to bribe the public in future while seeking elective posts.
The working groups that were present in this interlude saw the need of better pay and provisions of job security. With the ongoing developments that businesspeople brought about, employment opportunities were efficient for the immigrants who worked on industries and railroads. They occupied northeastern cities that were however not ready to receive them since the initial occupants were those that worked in the public service (Clavin 794). Though the effects of the increased population had significant impact on the federal government, it did not enact clear policies that would ensure a steady and effective growth of business but rather devised laws that allowed sudden growth of businesses (Thoreau 22). With the varied classes of individuals, the wealth officials were comfortable with the urban inhabitation and therefore did not engage themselves in carrying out reforms that would address the poverty ratio and the poor state of health in the urban areas.
The 1893 strike by workers of the Pullman Palace car company acted as a pivot, as it set off the trend by which workers would make their grievances addressed at length. Not only had the workers’ salary been reduced by 25%, it had also retrenched a number of its employees. The owner, George Pullman, was not ready to negotiate with the workers and in return shutting down the plant and firing three workers. The workers later staged a strike against Pullman that led to the stoppage of some activities, such as mail delivery and traffic on the rail road. The strict measures, such as controlling rents and setting prices for goods the workers used,which Pullman made his employees go through were quite dictatorial. It took the efforts of the federal government under President Grover Cleveland, who instructed the troops to disperse the striking rowdy workers to end the strike after. The lead activist Eugene Debs who started working for Pullman since his teenage hood and later formed the American railway union that brought together all railroad workers regardless of their posts had a belief that only unions could exert the much needed pressure to employers to listen to their workers’ grievances. After failing to call off the Pullman strike despite government orders over the same, he was arrested and confined in prison for conspiring and in the process interfering with the commerce of alternate states. The appeal on the government’s lack of influence over affairs of the union and its employer by intervening and stopping the strike was conversely denied.
The fundamental duty the rail workers’ unions put up in agitating for the rights and privileges were not welcomed by the government. Appeals by employers were frequently approved terming unions to be unprotected organizations by the law while downplaying their achievements in the previous years. As the 19th century came to an end, workers and their employers had conflicts over various labor related issues with better terms of service and improved wages prevailing most negotiations that the two parties were engaged in. The industries were frequented with strikes making the union leaders rise to stardom as socialists. For example, Debs later contributed to the formation of Industrial Workers Union in the beginning of the 20th century (Boris 144). Though the workers had genuine reasons for the strikes, such as underpayment and poor working conditions in most cases, local militia and troops were called to suppress the strikes irrespective of the issues they intended to address.
The fact that majority of these movements had illiterate members who were at some instances unable to present their grievances posed great danger on their part since some of them participated in strikes in which they even did not know what was being addressed. The socialists mostly acted as the lead protesters and for this case the spokesmen of the workers.In instances where personal interests arose in the middle of the strike,it could result the strike aborting. Since most of the rail workers were naive, they did not know their rights and freedoms thus did not see the need to join a union.
The union’s decision to engage in the railroad road strike unlike the other engagement received the support of the public due to the company’s treatment of its employees. The rail road strike addressed increased acts of wage reduction and frequent firing. As fate would have it, the public joined the workers in agitating for increase of wages and sudden retrenchment without notification. It was also observed that the local militia enforced to suppress the rioters had sympathy and resisted from going stopping the workers. Not even the government directive that threatened localsfrom engaging in the strike could stop the public from aiding the workers (Piper 97). However, it is important to note that, the early labor movement did not have a proper organization in relation to ousting a strike, most of the industrial actions started with few members then spread to the other members. The individuals involved in the protests and negotiations were punished, making the protests not to serve their purpose but put some individuals’ jobs in jeopardy.
It was evident that the union’s effects were felt, as some industries were careful with their employees due to the destructions they experienced during protests.Insurance covers are some of the improvements the workers enjoyed. The grounds for bargain for those seeking elective seats during elections also changed to fit those favourable to the workers, such as reduced working hours as well as stoppage of oppressive labor acts. The rise of the day of the worker is some of the major achievements the labor union brought fourth. As a result of the strikes that were experienced, governments were supposed to put the rights and freedoms of the worker in consideration by paying more attention to the pleas that prevailed during the strikes.
The government was presented with the need to have a comprehensive legislation that clearly outlined the role of the unions played as well as their part in term of employee-employer relations. The efforts by labor unions in the 19th century were likened to political duels where workers and employers were engaging though they were not coming into agreement. Lack of proper legislation to govern these labor movements also formed a stumbling block in their quest for addressing their employers. Forms of agreements that the employers and workers could relate to were not available, making each group regard itself as superior.
Boris, Eileen. Major Problems in the History of American Workers: Documents and Essays. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Print.
Clavin, Matthew J. “Interracialism and Revolution onthe Southern Frontier: Pensacola intheCivil War.” Journal of Southern History 80.4 (2014): 791-826. Academic Search Premier. Web.
Piper, Jessica. “The Great Railroad Strike of 1877: A Catalyst for the American Labor Movement.” History Teacher 47.1 (2013): 93-110. Academic Search Premier. Web.
Thoreau, Henry D. Civil Disobedience: On the Duty of. Auckland, N.Z.: Floating Press, 2008. Internet resource.