Founded in the belief of many that the foundation of American Society, the family unit was being threatened by the political machine and industrial tyranny brought on by the monopolies created during the Industrial Revolution the goal of the progressives was to create a society in which the health and welfare of the people became a priority of government.  While progressives varied in their beliefs and methods many of the social and political programs we have in the United States today are the product of their work.

In the area of labor relations and working conditions the efforts of the Progressives produced results that were reflected in the overall lives of Americans of that time period. For example, the child labor laws, protected children from having to risk life and limb in the course of working in mines and factories.  The first attempt by President Wilson, who signed a law in 1916 that prohibited the sale of products made by child labor, was challenged for it’s constitutionality, with a father arguing that he should control the productivity of his child while other parents argued that the income generated by their children was needed by their families.  Still many adult workers liked the idea of limitations being placed on child laborers because it provided additional opportunities for them.  Ultimately, the prohibition on child labor resulted in the ability of children to become educated through the public school system and advance their place in American Society.

Reasonable pay for work performed was another positive result of the progressive movement for the American economy,  while the wealthy business and factory owners objected because these laws effected their profit; the working class benefited and ultimately so did American businesses because the workers were able to buy the products they made.

In the area of worker safety the progressives made great strides in cleaning up factories and other business such as meat processing plants as highlighted in Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle”.  By implementing safe and clean work environments the health of both workers and consumers was protected, and while these measures may have driven up costs to the employer it is hard to argue that the health and safety of the nation’s people was not work worth the expense.

Finally the era gave birth to the labor unions, which at the time were badly needed to protect workers against the greedy business owners.  The unions of that period were dedicated to individual and groups of workers and existed to provide for their well-being.  While the largest union formed during that time the American Federation of Labor was not inclusive of minorities and immigrants the later formation Industrial Workers of the World in 1905 gave support to workers regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or skill.

One could argue that today unions have moved away from their focus on the protection of individual workers and that many have instead become political powers that work to bring about change in laws and policies effecting specialized trades.  This is not to say that they should cease in existence as there are a variety of unions each with their own culture and function.  I once belonged to the union at Meijer and during my employment there; I paid dues from each of my pay checks. Maybe it’s because I never needed a union representative to assist me, but with minimum wage laws in place a cashier at a Meijer store has little to gain from being a union member.  I can’t help but think that the union power overstepped what the progressives intended it would and compare that to the overstepping of the business owners of that era.

 

Keene, J. D., Cornell, S., & ODonnell, E. T. (2010). Visions of America: a history of the United States. Boston: Prentice Hall.