Organized Labor DBQ

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Connor Hayden Mr. G AP US History February 12, 2012 Labor DBQ Organized labor ushered itself onto the national stage in the period of 1875 to 1900. New technological advances in the area of production and development gave employers increased control over employees. Strikes littered factories and railways alike, with demands for better wages falling on deaf ears. Public opinion over the issue increasingly worsened as labor unions appeared as a nuisance. Although some may argue that organized labor laid the foundations for a strong labor movement, from the period of 1875 to 1900, organized labor failed to improve the position of workers as employer control increased, strikes were unsuccessful, and public opinion deterred support for…show more content…
The success of organized labor is partly dependent on the indispensability of the laborers within the union. Samuel Gompers, the leader of the American Federation of Labor, testified before the House of Representatives, admitting that all benefits of new technological advances in the means of production were going to the employers, and not the employees (Doc I). This is confirmed by a separate testimony of a machinist before the Senate Committee on Labor and Capital, detailed how the need for employees has rapidly decreased in 1883 (Doc D). These testimonies give light to the fact that employers were able to decrease the number of laborers needed, making any one laborer less indispensible. This was detrimental to organized labor, as their power was weakened. Labor unions were not successful in improving the condition of workers, as their voice was deterred by the technological advances of the time. Further, the power of the employers extended directly to the hindering of labor unions. An example of this is shown in a Western Union Telegraph Company employee contract, in which employees must abandon any connection with a labor union while under employment. These common “yellow dog” contracts, that forbade the joining of any labor union, severely limited membership of the unions. And because power is in numbers, the power of the labor unions was weakened. Employers were constantly looking for ways to…show more content…
Employees acted rashly and recklessly, doing little to improve their position in the workforce. In 1877, The New York Times reported that the Baltimore and Ohio Road strike was hopeless and was rather a demonstration of helpless, ignorant workers (Document B). This was true among many strikes of the day, which failed to leave the necessary impact for change. When railroad leaders cut wages by 10% in 1877, workers organized and went on strike. But president Hayes quickly put this down, with no relief to the condition of the workers’ wages. In 1886, when the Knights of Labor (KOL) protested for better working conditions, it was ultimately the demise of the KOL, as a tragic bombing was blamed on them. Once again, working conditions remained the same. Then, in 1892, employees took over one of Carnegie’s steel factories in Pittsburgh, protesting wage cuts. The coroner’s list of those killed at the Homestead Strike shows a tragic event in which a gunfight took the lives of several (Document G). This strike was put down and found no improvement in wages for the Carnegie workers. Lastly, in 1894, a protest for a decrease in the cost of living against the Pullman Palace Car Company was met with federal intervention, and no decrease in the cost of living. Multiple sporadic and reckless strikes were met with tragedy and no improvement in the working
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