With the conclusion of the CivilWar, the United States was able to rebuild and strengthen its infrastructureand foundational principles. Radical urbanization and reconstruction effortswere able to come about, employing millions of American civilians along theway. As expected, some individualshad mixed views on how employment was regulated at the time. These individualsbanded together, forming collective efforts, to voice their concerns towardsthe influential leaders.
Some efforts were peaceful, while; others resorted tomore violent and sinister confrontations. These vile acts became the standardfor conflicts, impacting the daily lives of thousands of individuals.Eventually, these conflicts were resolved, but not without severe losses alongthe way.
The labor movements of the late-1800sexemplified great conflicts across the United States as demonstrated by thestruggle for the rights of workers, the fights between laborism and capitalism,and the precedential use of federal authority. BackgroundInformationThe working class in the UnitedStates was heavily populated in the nineteenth century. An average of20,000,000 civilians was employed in the labor industry (Vernon 710).
Dangerousworking conditions, low wages, and child labor all contributed to the existenceof conflicts within this industry (Domhoff). It was common for deaths andinjuries to come about from the workplace with little to no reconciliation fromcorporate officials. Many labor workers experiencedsimilar conflicts during the late-1800s. Activist groups containing thesedistressed individuals formed a union of labor workers (Domhoff). These labororganizations were primarily formed for “defensive purposes — to protectagainst what they see as arbitrary decisions, such as sudden wage cuts,lay-offs, or firings… and force management to change dangerous workingconditions or overly long hours.” (Domhoff)Workers utilized these labor unionsas a method to combat against corporate regimes by relying on the principle ofcollective bargaining and their large group status when petitioning for reforms(Hamel).
Due to the influential presence of labor unions, rallied conceptsimpacted working conditions across the nation (Domhoff). As time progressed, itwas not beneficial for labor unions to continue to employ passive measures fortheir ideas and eventually resorted to more violent oppositions. Although therewere numerous amounts of labor movements within this time frame, the mostnotable would be the: Great Railroad Strike of 1877, Homestead Strike of 1892,and Pullman Strike of 1894 (Hillstrom 217). These labor movements capitulatedthe greatest interests and brought about many conflicts. Struggles for the Rights of WorkersWithin the times of theAmerican Industrial Revolution (within the late-1800s), there were manyinstances where the working class was treated unethically. Men, women, andchildren worked fourteen to sixteen hours a day for six days a week with pay aslittle as ten cents an hour (Regnery Publishing). Physical working conditionsand healthcare were severely dangerous and limited with “…a man was killed bythe railroad cars. Another had nearly all of his ribs broken.
Another wasnearly killed by falling down and having a bale of cotton fall on him.” (Paul).Due to the dreadful conditions that the American workers faced in this era,they thought it was the utmost importance to rebel and refine the conditions oflabor in the country.The Americans did so bycoordinating organized labor strikes/movements within the country. In responseto the anticipated 10 percent wage cuts by the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroadin the Great RailroadStrike of 1877, workers in Martinsburg, West Virginiaresponded by “uncoupling the locomotives in the station, confining them in theroundhouse, and declaring that no trains would leave Martinsburg unless the cutwas rescinded” (Adamczyk). Federaltroops assisted the West Virginia governor in restoring the railroad lines, butthe radical thinking of the workers started to spread into areas such as Baltimore,Chicago, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and San Francisco (Mintz andMcNeil). Charles A.
Malloy, of the Maryland National Guard, described the scenein Baltimore with “…a mob, which blocked the streets. They came armed withstones and as soon as we came within reach they began to throw at us.” (Mintzand McNeil). At the pinnacle of the struggle, 14,000 rioters took to thestreets of Baltimore with Maryland’s governor telegraphing then-PresidentRutherford Hayes for troops to protect and restore peace within the city (Mintzand McNeil). A similar situation occurred in Pittsburgh with the PhiladelphianNational Guard troops firing into a “crowd, killing more than 20 civilians,including women and at least three children. A newspaper headline read: Shot in Cold Blood by the Roughs ofPhiladelphia. The Lexington of the Labor Conflict at Hand.
The Slaughter ofInnocents.” (Mintz and McNeil). Across the country, more and more laborriots started to commence with each demanding better treatment of workers butultimately resulted in death, economic losses, and retribution for theviolence-bringers. Towards the close ofthe nineteenth century, it was more common for labor workers to petitionagainst multi-national, grand corporations.
The Homestead Strike of 1892 wasone of the first examples of this profound move (Hillstrom 36). The UnitedStates’ strongest labor union, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and SteelWorkers, challenged one of the nation’s most powerful corporations, the CarnegieSteel Company (Hillstrom 36). Henry Clay Frick, president of the Carnegie SteelCompany, viewed unions as “little more than criminal organizations designed toextort money from business owners” (Hillstrom 37).
When the union demanded forbetter pay and other management concessions in July 1892, Frick called for theclosure of the plant as he believed that the plant closure would “destroy theAmalgamated union and force the workers back to their jobs”, but it ratherresulted in the seizure of the entire factory (Hillstrom 37). Deeply angered bythis event, he hired a 300-man army from the Pinkerton Detective Agency toreclaim the factory with force (Hillstrom 38). As Hillstrom quoted, “Thearrival of the Pinkerton, though set off a deadly exchange of rifle fire anddynamite attacks (38). Although the corporation was victorious, the injuriesand deaths of the protesting workers instigated more mixed opinions across thenations whether the corporations respected the rights of workers. Fights between Laborism and Capitalism Workers joined labor unions to protect and protest fortheir fundamental rights as independent working citizens (Domhoff).
Businessowners, however; despised against the creation and presence of labor unions because”if they are going to compete successfully in an economy that can go boom orbust, then they need a great deal of flexibility in cutting wages, hiring andfiring, and adding extra hours of work or trimming back work hours when needbe” (Domhoff).For a proper capitalist company to maintain a foothold in the market, thecorporate leaders must make decisions that may not be viewed as unethical tosome. Due to the large group nature of the labor unions, protests and riotscommonly opened in response to these wage cuts or employee reorganizations.
As time moved on, more and more influential laborers feltthat it was necessary to institute a national labor organization to demandtheir unalienable rights in the workforce. The Noble and Holy Order of theKnights of Labor (Knights of Labor) was created in 1869 and emphasized “citizenshiprights, action in support of general social progress, cooperative forms oforganization for the society as a whole, and, significantly, the inclusion ofworkers of all crafts and races in one union for the first time” (Domhoff). Thisorganization listed its demands that benefitted the entirety of the workforcewith notable examples such as “The abrogation of all laws that do not bearequally upon capital and labor, the removal of unjust technicalities, delaysand discriminations in the administration of justice, and the adopting ofmeasures providing for the health and safety of those engaged in mining,manufacturing or building pursuits” (Powderly 243). Once the aforementioned and other national labor unionswere created, it was simple for workers to demand ideas without muchinterference from the corporate officials. The unions used the principle of”replacement costs” that prevented corporate officials from bringing instrike-breakers or replacement workers because of the high cost to do so(Domhoff). In 1886, Samuel Gompers, formed his own labor union, the AmericanFederation of Labor, and later addressed how the savage capitalist classes considerthemselves and their workers (Hillstrom 164). He found that “The state ofindustrial anarchy produced by the capitalist system if first stronglyillustrated in the existence of a class of wealthy social parasites; those whodo no work, never did any work, and never intended to work” (Lowell 203). Thecapitalist company officials lived in a lavish fashion while their workers enduredsuch hardships.
Gompers also found that “while failing to protect society inits consumptive capacity, the capitalist class has shamed and degraded societyin its productive capacity” (Lowell 204). The corporations failed to treattheir employees ethically and instead dishonored them. Capitalist corporationsregarded their capitals as “essentially if not absolutely their own”, whereaslabor unions believed that it was gifted to all and took a more “comprehensiveand purer view” (Lowell 204).
Organized labor movements allowed for these laborersto actively voice their complaints against the oppressive capitalist regimes,in an attempt to persuade these companies to provide more degrees of comfortand wages to the workers. Precedential Use of Federal Authority The federal government hascontinuously intervened in labor riots with workers subject to the federal military,state militia, and other governmental personnel. The most notable interventionby the federal government would be during the renown Pullman Strike.
The Pullman Company was a multinationalcorporation that manufactured railroad cars, headed by George Pullman, and “by1894 it operated “first class” sleeping cars on almost every one ofthe nation’s major railroads. The name Pullman was a household word”(Department of History). Pullman, using his wealth, created a company-ownedtown on the outskirts of Chicago which company workers were required to houseat. It touted itself as a “model community filled with contented, well-paidworkers” (Department of History). However, it was quite the contrary for thecompany’s workers. With the existence of the economicdepression of 1893, Pullman corporate officials continued to lower wages of itslabor employees, sometimes up to 25 percent, while maintaining the salary ofits officers, managers, and superintendents (U.
S. Strike Commission). Toincrease profits, mass layouts of over 2000 workers were taken (Department ofHistory). Even with the wage cuts and layoffs, the rents at Pullman, Chicagocontinued to rise with “If we exclude the aesthetic and sanitary features atPullman, the rents there are from 20 to 25 per cent higher than rents inChicago or surrounding towns for similar accommodations” (U.S. StrikeCommission). These changes in the Pullman Company resulted in the workersactively voicing their complaints in the American Railway Union, led by EugeneV.
Debs. Debs called for trainmen to refuseto operate locomotives on which Pullman sleeping cars were attached to andeventually caused more than 100,000 workers leaving work rather than to handlePullman cars (Department of History). On June 29, he conducted a large andpeaceful gathering in Blue Island, Illinois, but that was quickly followed byenraged crowds setting fire to nearby buildings and derailed a locomotive inuse by the United States Post Office (Domhoff).The federal government was very dismayed after this act as it was unable tofulfill one of its most important responsibilities as outlined by the PostalClause of the United States Constitution (Cleveland 18). President GroverCleveland personally intervened in this case and requested for a documentunprecedented at the time for a president as well as the national government againstthese strikes and boycotts (Cleveland, “GroverCleveland…”). President Cleveland declared thatthese actions are illegal and interfere with his constitutional responsibilityto protect the free-flow of post mail within the United States. While thejudicial department prepared a federal court injunction to bar the unionleaders from supporting this strike, President Grover Cleveland sent an openletter to Eugene V. Debs and others leaders of the American Railway Union,quoting that “You are hereby restrained, commanded, and enjoined absolutely todesist and refrain from in any way or manner interfering with, hindering,obstructing, or stopping any of the business of any of the following-namedrailroads…and from in any way interfering with, hindering, obstructing, orstopping any mail trains… between or among the States…”, and also mentionedthat these same leaders were barred from any communication with the employeesat the railway corporations (Cleveland, “Grover Cleveland…”).
The leaders ofthe union failed to recognize the court injunction and continued to incite moreprotests, further restricting the flow of mail trains. This prompted thefederal government to employ its military to silence the protests and restoreorder within the area (Cleveland 27-28). The military was not enough to fullysilence these protests from occurring. Over the course of many days in earlyJuly, there were still numerous violent protests with property damages,injuries, etc. (Cleveland 30-33). President Cleveland issued another ExecutiveProclamation to combat these protests in the city of Chicago. The governor of Illinois was verydistressed with the presence of troops in his state quoting that “I protestwith all due deference against this uncalled-for reflection upon our people,and again ask for the immediate withdrawal of these troops.
” (Cleveland 41). President Cleveland continued to stand firmby his stance and quoted that “If it takes the entire army and navy of the UnitedStates to deliver a postcard in Chicago, that card will be delivered” (Freideland Sidey 51). These unheard-of decisions made by the President caused him to experiencegreat conflicts, even within his own party affiliation. As Freidel and Sidey quoted, “Cleveland’sblunt treatment of the railroad strikers stirred the pride of many Americans”(51). His policies and handling of the situation during this time resulted inhis own party deserting him and nominating William Jennings Bryan for the 1896presidential election (Freidel and Sidey 51).Conclusion The labor movements of thelate-1800s exemplified great conflicts across the United States through itsconflicts regarding workers’ rights, the discrepancies of profit over workers,and the conflicts emerged from the unheard-of use of federal power.
Labor movements have traditionallybeen a site of tremendous conflicts, and throughout these, many fatalities,injuries, and property damages have all occurred during numerous strikes andprotests. Economical conflicts also emerged from united labor groups andoppressive capitalist companies because these corporations were solely focusedon profit rather than their workers. Many governmental conflicts emerged fromthe creation of the methods to stop these protests/movements because never inhistory before has the federal government employed the use of injunctionsagainst strikes, inciting many mixed opinions and more conflicts. While thefederal government did eventually institute a new federal holiday, Labor Day,to pay respects for the hard-working Americans, it was not enough to fullyrecoup its damages produced by the labor movements. The labor movements in thelate-1800s invoked great conflicts physically, economically, and legislatively.