During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s America was making more advances in technology and machinery than ever. An example can be found in Document D when a machinist is going before the Senate Committee on labor and capital. The machinist is asked a series of questions regarding his machinery and the technological advances that have been made over the years. He stated that no one man learns the entire trade of a machinist anymore and that it is more productive for a man to learn a piece of the trade than to spend so much time studying the entire career.
This, in turn, allowed sewing machines to be made faster and cheaper. With every employer’s eye set on making more money with cheap labor, working conditions got increasingly worse. People were forced to work up to nine and ten hours a day for minimum wages (Document A). The poor pay and pitiful working conditions of this time led to labor unions. Document I gives one a personal insight into the employees viewpoint on labor unions. Samuel Gompers spoke before a commission established by the House of Representatives on the relations and conditions of capital and labor. Mr.
Gompers basically makes the point that employees should be allowed to go on strike occasionally because if the right was taken away from them, the employer would never see the damage being done. Document F depicts a very clear image. One can see the anarchist, labor unions, socialists, and Knights of Labor fighting and arguing over what the best way to conduct a labor union would be. The caption is “Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth”. This furthers the image of the opposing opinions only complicating the situation at hand. All of the opinions swirling around provoked violent strikes and revolts.
The second largest labor union revolt was the Homestead Strike. It was second only to the Battle of Blair Mountain. Document G gives an obituary of some of the people killed at the Homestead Strike. The battle took place between the steelworkers and the Pinkerton detectives. The workers were striking against the Carnegie Steel Company. The obituary contains mostly names of workers. Although this is the only strike specifically mentioned within the documents provided there were many others. With all of these violent revolts breaking out in cities across the country, it is obvious hat the labor unions initial cause was not being accomplished. Some managers and employers forbade their employees from being involved in any form of labor union and would not hire them until they signed a contract agreeing to this; this was called a yellow dog contract. An example can be found in Document E. A man signed a contract saying that as long as he was employed with the Western Union Telegraph Company he would not participate in any labor union and that he would do his job to the best of his ability rendering good and faithful service to his company.
Document B is an excerpt from an article in the New York Times; it sends out the message that labor union strikes are ineffective, hopeless, and should be classified as a barbarous act done by fools. Labor unions were founded to give employees a sense of security within their job and help them to voice their opinions and wants regarding wages, hours, and working conditions. Although the intent of the labor unions was good, they ended in revolts, strikes, and bad reputations for those who were considered members. Labor unions still exist today and are generally operating on the same principles that they were founded on.
I do not believe that labor unions have accomplished the goals that they were created to. It has, however, allowed employees to have a say in their hours and wages. I also believe labor unions to be partially selfish. For example, there was a school in Ohio that recently had it teachers go on strike. The children who attended this school were unable to attend for almost two weeks due to the absence of the teachers. I believe that the intention of labor unions was good, but the direction and path they have taken has gone in a different direction.