1865-1914 ‘Your huddled masses’ –

What was the extent of union and labour rights?

  • 1865- Union and labour rights were limited to what workers could negotiate with their employers in their own workplace.

  • Unions were small and contained only skilled workers- CLOSED SHOP (work place dominated by one union and where all workers were obliged to be in that union)-

  • Employers were under no legal obligation to accept them

  • 1860 and 1900, as US industrialisation grew, the number of workers grew from 885,000 to 3.2 million

  • Craft unions existed to opposed employers attempts to reduce wages and to provide sickness benefits to workers

  • Work force became divided between skilled workers and unskilled/ semiskilled workers

  • This side of the workforce had no representation or protection so were often exploited by employers

  • William H. Sylvis- union leader who was the first to promote the idea of working-class solidarity

  • NATIONAL LABOUR UNION- attempted to form a single association that would cross craft lines and draw mass membership- campaigned for an 8 hour day, currency and banking reform, the ending of convict labour, a federal labour department and immigration restrictions

  • NLU was short lived- between 1866 and 1867, a strike by the IRON FOUNDERS failed.  Weakened the position, by 1868, they had 300,000 members across the US

What was the impact of industrialisation on the position of workers?

  • By the 1880s, traditional skills were disappearing and both men and women workers were becoming increasingly unskilled and underpaid

  • 1890-35% of the workforce were women

  • 1880s- 1/3 of workers in the railroad and steel industries were common labourers

  • Unskilled workers were moving from city to city, state to state

  • 1870s- bricklayers earned $3.00 per day and unskilled workers were paid less

  • Millions of workers had few rights

  • Safety precautions led to high accident rates

  • Railway workers- safety problems – 1889 2,000 rail workers were killed

  • Employers were resistant to introduce health and safety standards on the grounds of cost

Trade unions before 1914


  • 1869

  • Uriah Smith Stephens

  • Achieved initial success

  • Had a growth in membership after NLU disbanded

  • 1879 Terence V. Powderly became leader

  • Intention to unite skilled and unskilled labour, and remove barriers of race and origin imposed by existing associations

  • Women were welcome

  • Demanded 8 hour day, equal pay for women and abolition of child labourer

  • Powderly rejected strikes as a means of achieving its ends

  • 1881 membership grew to 20,000

  • KOL membership rose to 700,000 in 1886- included 10,000 women and 50,000 African American

  • Slump in the economy- 1900s

  • After the HAYMARKET AFFAIR everything failed

  • By 1890s, membership dwindled

  • Unions broke away from the KOL and moved to the AFL


  • Effectively replaced the KOL

  • Founded in 1886

  • First successful national labour federations seeking to link all unions

  • Leader: Samuel Gompers

  • Supported the use of strikes

  • Marcus A. Hanna (coal enterprises) and J.P Morgan (banker) supported and were willing to work with Gompers- willing to give workers mediation and conciliation

  • By 1914, the federation


No comments have yet been made