Labor unions in the gilded age

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LABOR UNIONS
IN THE GILDED AGE
OVERVIEW
 What’s a union?
 Why unions?
 The rise of unions
 Major unions
 Major events
 Women in the labor movement
WHAT’S A UNION?
WHAT’S A UNION?
 Groups of workers in the same
industry
 Elect leaders to negotiate with
employers
 Engage in collective bargaining
over wages, benefits, and working
conditions
 Sometimes launch strikes to
enhance bargaining power
STRIKES
 Strike: when a group of
workers refuses to work in
the hopes of getting better
pay, benefits, or working
conditions
WHY UNIONS?:
WORKING CONDITIONS
IN THE INDUSTRIAL ERA
INDUSTRIALIZATION
 More people start working
for wages
 Work becomes much more
unpleasant for many
 Low-wage, low-skill jobs
makes workers easier to
replace  less bargaining
power
WORKING CONDITIONS
 Long hours
 Low pay
 Most family members had to work
 Extremely difficult manual labor, often with no rest
 Dangerous work
 1880-1900: 35,000 deaths/year in factory/mine
accidents
 500,000 - 1 million more injuries
 Panic of 1873 leads employers to lay off workers and
cut wages
RETALIATION
 Strikebreakers (“scabs”): workers hired by companies to
replace striking workers
 Immigrants
 African Americans
 Intimidation/firing
 Sabotage/infiltration
 Pinkerton guards
 Pinkerton National Detective Agency: founded 1850 in Chicago
 Private security and law enforcement firm
 Frequently hired by factory owners to intimidate union activists and
protect strikebreakers
 Reputation for violence
THE RAILROAD STRIKES OF 1877
 Many small, local, trade -specific unions and guilds
 July 1877: railroad unions organize strikes to protest wage
cuts
 Violent confrontations between strikers and police  huge
impact on rail travel and shipping
 Worst violence in Pittsburgh
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July 21: State troops fire on demonstrators, killing 10
Mob sets railway property on fire, burning 2,000 train cars
Troops shoot their way out, killing 20 more
Rutherford Hayes sends federal soldiers
 Strikes collapse thanks to imbalance of force, weak economy
(more strikebreakers), and lack of central leadership
 Spurs workers to organize across trades
UNION
MEMBERSHIP,
1900-2000
THE RISE OF UNIONS
THE KNIGHTS OF LABOR
 Founded 1869
 Terence V. Powderly
 Included skilled +
unskilled, women,
immigrants, black workers
 Ultimate goal: workers’
cooperatives
 Generally opposed to
strikes, but engaged in
some militant action
THE HAYMARKET AFFAIR
 May 1, 1886: general strike for an 8 -hour day led by
all unions in Chicago
 3 days of peaceful demonstrations; police shoot and
kill two union members while breaking up a fight on
May 3
 May 4: rally to protest police violence in Haymarket
Square
 Police approach to break up the orderly rally
 Someone in the crowd throws a bomb
 7 killed, 67 injured
 Mass arrests of anarchists and union activists
 Result: public becomes suspicious of labor unions;
destroys the Knights of Labor
THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR
Founded 1886
Samuel Gompers
Generally moderate
Concrete goals: wages,
hours, collective
bargaining
Generally excluded
unskilled workers,
immigrants, women,
and African Americans
THE HOMESTEAD STRIKE
 June 1892: Amalgamated Association of Iron and
Steelworkers (AA) negotiating with Carnegie steel
plant in Homestead, PA
 Henry Frick closes plant and hires Pinkertons to
protect strikebreakers
 July 5: Firefight between workers and Pinkertons
 State militia called in to break the strike and protect
new, non-union employees
 July 23: Anarchist attempts to assassinate Frick
 Impact: setback for AFL; loss for strikers
THE PULLMAN STRIKE: CAUSES
 Pullman, Chicago: a “company
town” for workers building
Pullman railway cars
 1894: Pullman lays off workers
and cuts pay, but does not lower
rents
 Eugene V. Debs travels to
Pullman and recruits factory
workers to the American
Railway Union (ARU)
 The ARU calls for a boycott of
all trains carrying Pullman cars
THE PULLMAN STRIKE: BOYCOTT
 June 26, 1894: ARU members begin refusing to work
on trains carrying Pullman cars
 125,000 workers walked off the job within the next
four days
 Huge disruption to transportation, shipping, and the
economy in much of the country
 Rail traffic shut down in 27 states
 Railroads hire strikebreakers (“scabs”), including
black workers
 Violence by some union supporters angers the public
and increases calls for federal intervention
THE PULLMAN STRIKE: INTERVENTION
 President Cleveland directs the
government to shut down the
strike
 Federal troops protect
strikebreakers and force an end
to the boycott
 30 strikers killed, 57 wounded
 $800 million in property
damage
 By August 2, ARU ends the
boycott; most strikers abandon
the union and return to work
INTERNATIONAL WORKERS OF THE
WORLD
 Founded 1905 by radical
Colorado miners
 Known as IWW or “the
Wobblies”
 “One big union”: all laborers,
regardless of race or trade
 Ultimate goal: socialism
 Often supported violence and
sabotage
 Collapsed during WWI and
Red Scare
WOMEN IN THE LABOR MOVEMENT
 Most unions excluded women
from membership; nearly all
excluded them from leadership
 A few exceptions: International
Ladies Garment Workers Union;
Lawrence textile mills
 1919: IBEW Telephone Operator’s
Department strikes, shutting
down phone service in five states
 Women’s Trade Union League
(W TUL) – founded 1903; link
between women’s and labor
movements
MARY HARRIS “MOTHER” JONES
 Lived approx. 1837-1930
 Traveled the country
organizing coal miners
and other laborers
 Unconventional tactics
 Included black and
white workers
 Used women and
children in her protests
 Didn’t wear a bow tie,
but…

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