There are a variety of controversial subjects about the Gilded Age, but most of it has to do with the unionism during this time period. In the late 1800s, the Industrial Revolution was unfolding and big steps were being put into action to bring us closer to the more advanced world that we live in today. Expansion in cities/ factories, new machinery/technology, higher rate of production, and economic growth are some of the positive factors that came about during this time, so what could possibly be negative about it? A lot about how it all started just doesn’t seem right to me. The unfair treatment of employees, the working conditions, and the harassment from employers. With that being said the Industrial Revolution does mark a huge turning point in history, but the questions are, how did we get there and how were the workers affected by this change?
Employees had little to no say or protection in how things went for them. At this time, employers took advantage of anything they possibly could; lowering wages and extending work hours of those workers that wanted to keep their job because of the rising competition with the unemployed immigrants coming in. It is one thing to use your power and authority when needed but its another to use it to the point that it brings harm to other people. Even though, it was not just the employers in the wrong but also the courts and legislatures, who sided with them and didn’t enforce any of the laws to protect the workers at the time. A majority of laborers had to work in conditions that were seldom ever favorable for them. “Many of them faced hardships; long hours, low pay, dangerous conditions, and frequent downturns in the economy”(Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell. Pg 509.)
Child labor was a common occurrence in many industries, which is another controversial subject revolving around the Gilded Age. The thought of children, as young as 7 years old, working in dangerous conditions, is disturbing. It took away from their education, childhood, and health all for only a fraction of what they pay adults. Workers responded to all this mistreatment and inequality by forming unions and throwing strikes. The idea of labor unions among the employers increased as time went on because it protected their rights and interests in the industry. I feel that it was important for the unions to come about around this time because there were really no labor laws developed enough to protect the workers. On the other hand, employers looked at unions as a disruption to productivity. They thought of them as threats and dangerous to their profits and freedom to run businesses like they wanted. The employers took measures as far as arresting everyone that wanted to organize a labor union.
“Have had nothing to combat capital with except their empty stomachs, while the capitalists have had unlimited financial resources and have been able to starve workingmen into submission” stated a worker on strike(Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell. Page 487). On the other side, When thinking about it from an employer’s point of view, they probably thought that unions would only slow down the Industrial Revolution. However, the labor unions were developed for the right reasons. They acted like a stepping stone to initiate the labor laws that we have now. The laws were created later on to eliminate child labor, have better working conditions, and reduce work hours. Without the beginning period of the unions development, it would be hard to say how well they would be developed in today’s world.
O’Donnell, Edward T., Cornell., Visions of America: a History of the United States Books a La Carte Edition. Prentice Hall, 2016.
The Industrial Revolution: The Rise of Labour Unions.” Teamsters 362, http://www.teamsters362.com/the-industrial-revolution-the-rise-of-labour-unions/.