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The Early Labor Movement Essay, Research Paper

The Early Labor Movement, 1794- 1836

The early labor movement, between 1794 and 1836 had many strengths and weaknesses. Leadership of skilled workers in the union movement and the increased demand for these workers in the building trades were two of these strengths. Also important were the success of strikes for the ten-hour workday and the creation of the Working Men’s party. The movement also had its weaknesses though. The loss of jobs due to new production processes and the employer’s hostility to organized labor and unions were two of these. These strengths and weaknesses come together to define the labor movement.

One of the things that guaranteed the success of the labor movements was its dominating strengths. One of the most important strengths was the leadership of skilled workers during the union movement. This is shown by the formation of unions by the cordwainers, printers, and the mechanics. These artisans helped out the movement extremely. Also, with the success of the Industrial Revolution, many new jobs were created in the building trade. And, of course, with the new jobs, there comes a need for people to fill the jobs. This increased demand for skilled workers helped the economy and was one of the strengths of the early labor movement. Another accomplishment of the labor movement was the success of strikes in favor of the ten-hour workday. This could not have been accomplished without the help of unions. To succeed in this, workers of all crafts exploited their bargaining powers. The ten-hour workday was won through a series of boycotts and strikes. The most dramatic victories were in Philadelphia where the local government set a ten-hour standard workday for all local works. The success of the strikes in gained in the ten hour workday led workers to further exploit their powers in order to get better wages and benefits. This exercising of powers still happens in today’s society. One other success in the early labor movement was the creation of the Working Men’s party. Building and trade workers formed this political party in 1828. This party was temporarily a great success. This was mainly due to their platform, or beliefs on issues. Their over all platform was to increase the power of labor. It included equal taxation for rich and poor, abolition of banks, and universal education. All of which were extremely important to the working man of the day. Probably the most important was the need for universal education. The workers wanted their children to be more mobile so that they would have a better chance for success. In 1834, the Pennsylvania legislature was finally persuaded by the Working Men’s party to provide free, universal, tax- supported schooling. These four issues were the keys to the success of the early labor movement.

On the other hand, the early labor movement also had many weaknesses. As industries gained more technology and new production process, the loss of jobs and status in the workplace was imminent. Some examples of this were in the hatting, printing, and weaving industries. These “threatened mechanics” formed together in the 1820s and 1830s to form craft unions. They produce a “labor theory of value.” This stated that the price of a good should reflect the work put into the production of that good. Another group threatened by industrialization was the journeymen shoemakers. The master shoemakers lost their status when the craft was turned into a type of “assembly line.” When this happened the masters were just mere bosses in the shoemaking industry. These craft unions formed a new radical form of democracy that wanted universal suffrage and more taxes on luxuries, which were owned mostly by the rich. There were also rules or laws formed by employers that worked against organized labor. First, in 1828, women mill workers in New Hampshire struck against tow of these rules. The first rule stated that the women were to be fined for showing up late to work. The second rule initiated a system where employees would receive certificates upon their parting from the company, which stated that they were faithful employees. This worked against unions because potential strikers feared fines and thought they would not be able to find work if they were fired because they wouldn t have the certificate. This made it impossible for the workers to strike. Another weakness of the early labor movement due to the employer was the “Black List.” In 1836 New York City employers agreed not to hire members of the Union Trade Society of Journeymen Tailors and they circulated a list comprised of the members’ names. The employers also took action through the courts. They sued against closed shops (these were usually obtained by unions after getting wage increases). Their case was that closed shops violated common law and statutes that prohibit such conspiracies. The courts found that closed shops did violated these laws and the defendants guilty. But, in time, the higher courts overturned the verdict and all the defendants were acquitted. This was due to pressure put on the jury by protesters. One case involved over 27,000 demonstrators outside of New York City’s City Hall.

In conclusion, the strengths and weaknesses of the early labor movement of 1794-1836 defined industry, politics, and society, as we know it today.


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