American Labor Movement: Development of Unions Essays

2282 Words Oct 16th, 1999 10 Pages
The American Labor Movement of the nineteenth century developed as a result of the city-wide organizations that unhappy workers were establishing. These men and women were determined to receive the rights and privileges they deserved as citizens of a free country. They refused to be treated like slaves, and work under unbearable conditions any longer. Workers joined together and realized that a group is much more powerful than an individual when protesting against intimidating companies. Unions, coalitions of workers pursuing a common objective, began to form demanding only ten instead of twelve hours in a work day. Workers realized the importance of economic and legal protection against the powerful employers who took advantage of them. …show more content…
The union was originally a secret, but later was open to all workers, including blacks, women and farmers. Five hundred thousand workers joined in a year. Their goals were an eight-hour work day, a minimum wage, arbitration rather than strikes, health and safety laws, equal pay for equal work, no child labor under the age of fourteen, and government ownership of railroads, telegraphs and telephones. However, the Knights of Labor was a relatively weak organization, and eventually fell apart. (www.planetpapers.com/ Assets/306.shtml, 2)

In 1886, the American Federation of Labor (AF of L) was formed and replaced the Knights of Labor. Its leader was former cigar union official Samuel Gompers who only wanted to focus on skilled workers. (www.planetpapers.com/Assets/306.shtml, 2)

The founders were quoted as saying, "the various trades have been affected by the introduction of machinery, the subdivision of labor, the use of women's and children's labor and the lack of an apprentice system so that the skilled trades were rapidly sinking to the level of pauper labor. To protect the skilled labor of America from being reduced to beggary and to sustain the standard of American workmanship and skill, the trade unions of America have been established." (AFL-CIO American Federationalist, 1) The AF of L was a conglomeration of twenty-five unions that included three hundred thousand workers working for increasing wages, reducing hours, and
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