Failed Farm and Labor Organizations in the Late 19th Century

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In the period of 1870-1900, labor unions and organizations were rarely successful in achieving their goals primarily because of problems with being able to organize large numbers of American Workers. The rare victories for labor were isolated incidents because there were no labor organizations on a national or even state-wide basis. The problems with organization arose because of five major factors - differences in union leadership, divisions between skilled and unskilled workers, ethnic and racial tensions, and employer, and government and public hostility. The leader of the Knights of Labor, Terence Powderly, believed that the best means of organization was pooling a mass membership from unskilled and skilled workers. He stated, "The…show more content…
When strikes would occur, the government took an anti-labor stance in response to the public outcry against the labor-based extremism and violence. The Pullman strike of 1894 was a strike where blood was shed forcing a government reaction. Eugene Debs, the leader of the American Railway Union, led 40,000 Pullman workers in a strike that caused rail traffic to cease in the west. This affected the flow of mail, which is a federal offense. When federal government used special deputies to deliver the mail, violence of previously unseen proportions broke loose. The New York World in 1894 reported that the strike was like a "war against the government and society." The strike only caused controversy and did not help any employee. De Tocqueville has said: "When the people are overwhelmed with misery they are resigned, it is when they begin to hold up their heads that they are impelled to insurrection." In addition to internal organization problems, unions also dealt with outside difficulties from employers and the government. Employers often forbade employees to join unions with "yellow-dog contracts" or would fire employees who were union-members. Employers were able to overcome the union 's central weapon, the strike, by replacing strikers with cheap immigrant labor. The government favored big business and gave employers an extra weapon in breaking strikes when the Supreme Court ruled in In Re Debs
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