American Labor, A Pictorial Social History
M. B. Schnapper
Excerpts from the book published in 1972 by Public Affairs Press,
The author of this volume compiled
an extensive collection of photographs and drawings depicting the
lives of working people living in that part of North America that
became the United States. I have selected a representative portion
of these images and supporting text to highlight the story of the
social conditions existing in the nation over time. Edward
THE PERIOD OF BRITISH COLONIAL RULE
"For all its evils, the indenture system was a necessity
from Britain's viewpoint because manpower was in extremely short
supply throughout the colonies. ..."
RESTRAINTS ON COLONIAL INDUSTRY
"In spite of British efforts to discourage the colonies from
becoming self-sufficient, many small industries were thriving. ..."
THE STRUGGLE TO BECOME AN INDEPENDENT NATION
SONS OF LIBERTY FIGHT FOR THEIR INALIENABLE RIGHTS
"In the forefront of the fight against Britain's unpopular
measures were the Sons of Liberty, composed chiefly of workingmen.
DEMOCRATIC NATION EMERGES
"What had begun as a war in behalf of the 'rights of
Englishmen' and the redress of grievances soon became a truly
Revolutionary War in which men fought and died to throw off the
yoke of British monarchy and control their own destiny. ..."
BIRTH OF TRADE UNIONS
"Fewof the characteristics of modern trade unionism existed
during the early days of the republic. At that timeand for some
years to come guildlike organizations composed of masters and
journeymen were primarily concerned with craftmanship standards
and competition considered injurious to their trade. ..."
EMERGING SECTIONAL CONFLICT, SLAVERY AND PRIVILEGE
OF WAGE SLAVERY IN THE NORTH
"Southerners coupled their defense of slavery with attacks
on Northern factory conditoins. The latter, they claimed, had more
evil consequences for the workingman than slavery. ..."
IN THE TEXTILE FACTORIES OF NEW ENGLAND
"Probably thefirst American example of a company house
organ, the "Lowell Offering" creted the impression that
working in Massachusetts textile mills was an idyllic experience.
DEMOCRACY: ERA OF THE COMMON MAN
"Swept into office as the champion of the humble members of
society, President Andrew Jackson gave bold expression to popular
hopes previously frustrated by Federalist policies. ..."
OF SOCIAL FERMENT
"Born out of the workingmen's need for publications of their
own, a score of newspapers and magazines devoted to the interests
of labor and social reform appeared during the 1840s. ..."
LANDMARK COURT DECISION AFFIRMS THE RIGHTS OF WORKERS TO
"Rugged Lemuel Shaw, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts
Supreme Court, handed down an historic decision when he ruled in
1842 that unions had a legal right to exist and did not constitute
conspiracies, as previous judges had held. ..."
CONTRACT LABOR SYSTEM
"Of all the moves to encourage immigration, none incensed
workers more than a federal law permitting American employers to
place liens on the labor and property of immigrants to whom they
advanced passage money. In effect the odious indenture of colonial
times was resurrected. ..."
THE ERA OF UNREGULATED INDUSTRIAL EXPANSION FOLLOWING THE CIVIL
NATIONAL EIGHT OUR LAW OF 1868
"A direct result of pressure by the National Labor Union was
the passage in 1868 of a law establishing an eight-hour day for
'all laborers, workmen, and mechanics new employed or who may be
employed by or on behalf of the Government of the United States'.
EDITORIAL BY ANNA RAYMOND CHAMPIONS THE RIGHTS OF "WORKING
"Do the rich and well-to-do think of the poor girls in their
employ, and of their privations? Here and there a generous and
noble-hearted individual remembers kindly those in his employ, but
if the majority give a thought to them it is only to say mentally:
'I pay the regular price, and this is all my duty'." [Anna
Raymond. "A Plea For Working Girls," New York Weekly,
31 August, 1871]
BEGINNINGS OF THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR
"Looking bck at his early experiences at the president and
only full-time officer of the American Federation of abor,
[Samuel] Gompers wrote: '... whether there was money or not, in
the morning we started to work with our lunch under our arms. ..."
FOOD EMPIRE BUILT BY HENRY J. HEINZ
"Preparing foods for processing under sanitary conditions
was a fetish in the factories of Henry J. Heinz. His relations
with employees also had a distinctly sanitized quaity. ..."
RESPONDING TO YET ANOTHER ECONOMIC CALAMITY IN THE 1870s
GREAT UPHEAVAL OF 1877
"As the country struggled through the prolonged depression
that followed the Panic of 1873, the outlook for workingmen seemed
bleak indeed. The number of the unemployed rose to a peak of about
five million. ..."
CHIMERA OF GREENBACKISM
"An outgrowth of the depression of the 1870s, revolt by
western farmers, and the political activities of the National
Labor Union, the Greenback Labor Party demanded the issuance of
government currency ('greenbacks') in place of bank notes and
insisted on other reforms endorsed by union leaders who sought to
break up the monopolistic power of banks..."
GREENBACK LABOR PARTY
"Despite ... ridicule, fifteen candidates of the Greenback
Labor Party were elected to Congress in 1878 and scores of others
won state offices. ..."
"The hard times of the 1870's provided fertile ground for
the radical ideas of the International Workingmen's Association
(the 'First International') sired by Karl Marx with the help of
British trade unions. ..."
HENRY GEORGE EMERGES WITH AN ALTERNATIVE VISION OF SYSTEMIC
AND PLENTY DURING THE 1870'S
"In his book 'Progress and Poverty', published in 1879,
Henry George focused attention on a question that especially
perplexed labor; Why should the advance of the industrial
revolution, with more and more machinery for producing wealth,
result in greater poverty? ..."
IMPACT OF HENRY GEORGE AS THE APOSTLE OF REFORM
"Among those who campaigned in Henry George's behalf when he
ran for Mayor of New York on the United Labor Party ticket were
outspoken Father Edward McGlynn, Terence Powderly, Grand Master of
the Knights of Labor, and Samuel Gompers, youthful president of a
still obscure organization known as the American Federal of Labor.
GEORGE'S 1886 CAMPAIGN FOR MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY
"Despite ... ridicule, single-taxer Henry George came
surprisingly close to being elected Mayor of New York as the
candidate of the United Labor Party in 1886. ..."
LEADERS OF THE 1880'S
"Except for Henry George, these labor leaders of the 1880's
were barely known to the public at large. ..."
DISCORDANT ORCHESTRA WITHOUT A LEADER
"The discord that beset the labor movement in the late
1880's is satirized in this Puck cartoon by Frederick Opper. ..."
RELIGION AND SOCIAL PROGRESS: HARMONY OR CONFLICT AS THE
NINETEENTH CENTURY ENDS?
EDWARD McGLYNN AND THE ANTI-POVERTY SOCIETY
"Catholic objections to Henry George's radical notions were
ignored by workers who came under the spell of Father Edward
CATHOLIC CHURCH TAKES A CONTROVERSIAL STAND
"Thanks in part to the influence of Cardinal James Gibbons,
the first prominent American Catholic clergyman to speak out in
behalf of workingmen, Pope Leo XIII isssued in 1891 an historic
encyclical calling for the application of Christian ethics to
relations between capital and labor. ..."
WILL GOVERNMENT ACT TO DEFEND THE RIGHTS OF LABOR OR CONTINUE TO
PROTECT INDUSTRIAL LANDLORDISM?
OF POLITICAL POWER
Here, Schnapper reprints the credo of the Workingmen's Party,
which he describes as "a curious mixture of intolerance,
idealism, and radicalism."
"Almost blatantly biased in favor of employers, the courts
placed formidable roadblocks in labor's path by handing down
innumerable decisions restraining unions from striking,
boycotting, or engaging in other activities considered illegal
means of interfering with freedom of enterprise. ..."
OVER TARIFF PROTECTIONISM
"Manufacturers and politicians alike appealed stridently to
workingmen for support of high protective tariff walls. ..."
TRIUMPH OF BIG BUSINESS
"The growth of big business and big trusts placed labor at
an enormous disadvantage. In earlier times it could bring
effective pressure to bear on factory owners anxious to avoid
strikes. But powerful corporations that dominated whole industries
had little to fear from craft unions that could seldom do more
than engage in poorly mounted skirmishes. ..."
IN THE TENEMENT SLUMS
"In this book 'How the Other Half Lives', reporter Jacob
Riis pried open to public view the dark corners of New York slum
conditions similar to those festering in Chicago and Pittsburgh
during the 1880's. ..."
VIOLENCE: THE HAYMARKET EXPLOSION
"May 1, 1886, was a momentous day for the labor movement. In
a socre of cities thousands of workers (close to a half million in
all) downed their tools and went on strike for an eight-hour day.
KNIGHTS OF LABOR: THEIR ADVOCACY OF SOCIAL JUSTICE
"Unlike craft labor leaders, the Knights felt that unions
were too narrow in their interests, too restrictive in their
membership, and too limited in their objectives. The basic
principles of the Knights called for far-reaching economic and
political reforms. ..."
KNIGHTS OF LABOR GO FORTH INTO BATTLE
"Meteorlike, the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of
Labor blazed across the nation's industrial sky in the 1880's.
Almost overnight membership rocketed from 50,000 in 1884 to
750,000 in 1886 ..."
KNIGHTS OF LABOR GO FORTH INTO BATTLE (continued)
"Yet such were their weaknesses that their organization
began sputtering out of existence at the very same time it
appeared to be at the very zenith of its power. ..."
DEBS EMERGES AS THE LEADER OF DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM
"Baldheaded Eugene Debs, founder of the American Railway
Union who led the abortive Pullman strike in 1894, is seen peering
out of the Socialist 'Red Special' he rode during one of his
campaigns for the presidency. ..."
BATTLE OVER MONEY
"Free and unlimited coinage of silver, advocated by
Populists as a means of breaking the hold of monopoly capitalism
over the nation's economic life, had a fair degree of labor
support, particularly during William Jennings Bryan's campaigns
for the presidency, although Republicans warned workingmen that
abaondonment of the gold standard would mean reduced wages and
lower living standards. ..."
"Essentially middle-class oriented, Theodore Roosevelt's
Square Deal offered workers more of a fair shake than the policies
of previous Republican Presidents. While he was scornful of labor
radicalism, he spoke up in ehalf of trade unionism. ..."
INTERVENTION IN BEHALF OF MINERS
"Determined to end the great coal strike of 1902, ailing
President Theodore Roosevelt took unprecedented action in
summoning mine operators and union representatives to Washington.
DISGRACE OF CHILD LABOR
"Exploited without regard to their tender years, countless
youngsters were working under conditions constantly fraught with
danger to life and limb. ..."
DISGRACE OF CHILD LABOR (continued)
CHOOSING SIDES IN THE EXPLODING GLOBAL CONFLICT FOR GEOPOLITICAL
YEARS DURING THE WILSON ADMINISTRATION
"Greatly encouraged by the favorble climate provided by
government support, especially in the World War I years,
membership in unions doubled between 1912 and 1919..."
OF A WORLDWIDE LABOR MOVEMENT
"More violent in their slogans than in their actions, the
Wobblies -- the Industrial Workers of the World -- were waging a
lost battle as European war clouds edged ever closer to American
shores. The country was in no mood to tolerate troublemakers of
any type, let along mena who openly espoused racial notions at a
time when the nation felt threatened by barbaric forces. ..."
OF A WORLDWIDE LABOR MOVEMENT (continued)
"For a while the IWW had limited success. Its greatest
strength was among laborers so poorly and so badly treated that
they were ready for desperate tactics -- miners, lumberjacks,
migratory harvest hands, and textile mill workers. ..."
OF THE RED SCARE
"Skillfully exploited, the postwar Red Scare ushered in an
era in which there was far less concern with making the world safe
for democracy than with making America sale from Bolshevism. ..."
RESPONDING TO YET ANOTHER ECONOMIC CALAMITY IN THE 1930s
HARRIS ("Mothers") JONES AND THE BATTLE FOR RIGHT
"Once at a public meeting, a college professor referred to
Mother Jones as a 'great humanitarian'. She interrupted him. 'Get
it right', she siad. 'I'm not a humanitarian, I'm a hell-raiser'.
..." [Lemuel P. Parton, "Not 'Humanitarian', She Once
Said, but 'Hell Raiser'. Washington Star, 1930]
FORD ON UNEMPLOYMENT
"I have always had to work, whether any one hired me or not.
For the first forty years of my life, I was an employe. When not
employed by others, I employed myself. I found very early that
being out of hire was not necessarily being out of work. ..."
[Henry Ford, "On Unemployment," Literary Digest,
11 June 1932]
RIGHT TO COLLECTIVE BARGAINING
"Undeterred by Supreme Court nulification of NRA, the New
Deal nudged labor ahead under the terms of the National Labor
Relations Act authored by Senator Robert F. Wagner. Far and away
the most significant American labor law ever enacted, the new
measure guaranteed workers 'the right to self-organization, to
form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively
through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in
concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or
other mutual aid or protection'."