Business vs. Workers Working conditions and the growth of unions in the Gilded Age
Business owners ran factories as cheaply as possible (low costs high profits) at the expense of workers
Workers bought own tools
No safety equipment
Low wages for long hours
10 hour workday (1880s)
In 1890, the average annual wage
for a family of four was $380;
subsistence level was $530
Child labor was particularly common in this period, with little or no safety measures taken to protect them!
What do you think the author of this cartoon is trying to say about children’s labor conditions?
Result of workers’ discontent = labor unions
Idea of a labor union not new…so what made the unions of the Gilded Age different?
Knights of Labor (1869)
American Federation of Labor (1886)
More workers allowed to join
Goals of labor unions: negotiate for better wages and working conditions
How successful were they?
Knights of Labor Black delegate Frank J. Farrell introduces Terence V. Powderly, head of the Knights of Labor, at the organization's 1886 convention. The Knights were unusual in accepting both black and female workers. (Library of Congress)
Workers take action!
Workers also decided to take matters into their own hands….
Railroad Strike of 1877
Depression after Panic of 1873 prompted railroads to cut pay of workers, resulting in strike action
Strike failed, but signified growing power of unions
Homestead Strike (1892)
Workers at Carnegie’s steel mills in Homestead, PA faced a wage cut, which their union refused
Pullman Strike (1894):
Depression prompted Pullman Palace Car Company to cut wages 25% with no concurrent drop in rent for workers
Workers struck, and all railway workers across the country refused to handle Pullman cars… rail traffic was halted
Railroad Strike of 1877 This engraving depicts striking railroad workers in Martinsburg, West Virginia, as they stop a freight train on July 17, 1877, in the opening days of the great railway strike of that year. Engravings such as this, which show the strikers to be heavily armed, may or may not have been accurate depictions of events. But the public's understanding of events such as the 1877 strike was formed through artists' depictions. (Library of Congress)
Business leaders feared the growth of unions would spread socialism , an economic system in which workers are also owners of the business
Haymarket Affair (1886) : conflict between police and protesters resulting from a lockout by the McCormick Harvester Company
Bomb that sparked riot blamed on socialists, resulting in the arrest of hundreds
After the Haymarket Affair, opposition to unions increased and membership started to decline
The Haymarket Martyrs
“King Debs” This famous cartoon about the Pullman strike, originally published July 14, 1894, in Harper's Weekly, shows Eugene V. Debs , head of the American Railway Union, sitting atop a railway bridge that has been turned to cut off all rail traffic. The railroad cars behind him are labeled "fresh vegetables," "beef," and "fruit," to emphasize the perishable nature of the products that could not be delivered, and others are identified as "U.S. Mail." In the background, factories have "closed" signs on them. This cartoon, and others like it, helped to mobilize opinion against the strikers. (Library of Congress)