During the 19th century factory work became more and more common shortly after the Civil War ended. One of the biggest reasons for this was the completion of the railroads, which allowed large shipments of items and people to go across the country much faster than before. Other causes for the big boom of industrialized business stemmed from the creation of new technology, the quickly expanding urban workforce, huge supplies of raw materials, and few restraints on businesses (Keene, Cornell, & O’Donnell 474). With factories growing at such a fast rate employers needed to hire more workers. The workforce jumped up 3.8 million people from 1860 to 1900 with a grand total of 5.1 million workers ( Keene, Cornell, & O’Donnell 485).
With business becoming so large, employers needed to hire a lot of workers to operate all of their machinery. This technology was so easy to operate that finding skilled employees wasn’t hard, and they were very easy to replace. As a result of this workers were treated poorly. They had to work long hours, on average 12 hours a day for six days a week, and received $100-$400 a year less than what was required to have a decent life (Keene, Cornell, & O’Donnell 485). Most employers didn’t care for their workers at all, and this resulted in a dangerous workplace. Adults weren’t the only people suffering from the rise of industrialized business, children were also being sent to work so that their families would have enough money to put food on the table. Soon, because of these poor conditions workers started to come together to create unions.
When workers began to create unions employers were unhappy. Unions were seen as a threat to a business’ profit and freedom (Keene, Cornell, & O’Donnell 487). They realized if unions succeeded they wouldn’t be able to make as much money. Along with this employers would have to put a lot more time and effort into making their factories safer. Overall, unions were seen as dangerous because they threatened the employer’s way of life, you wouldn’t want things to change either if it would affect your perfect life.
Workers believed that they should create unions, because they would increase their lives dramatically. It would no longer be such a struggle to barely scrape by. In my opinion workers were not asking for very much, they basically just wanted to be treated fairly while they were doing their job. Some goals were less attainable than others such as, changing the current competitive industrial system to an economy that would be based on cooperation (Keene, Cornell, & O’Donnell 494). A majority however were pretty simple, an eight hour work day, men and women deserved to get paid equally, establishment of bureaus of labor, and the end to child and convict labor (Keene, Cornell, & O’Donnell 495,497). Unions were also open to anyone no matter your race or gender, which also appealed to a lot of workers during this time period.
Although the Industrial Revolution caused a lot of hardships for workers it was overall a great time in American history. Businesses became larger and were able to produce more products and many American citizens were able to be employed in factories. Workers also made great strides toward our modern day unions that changed the way business are run and helped decrease the poverty difference between the upper and lower classes.
Keene, Jennifer D, et al. Visions of America A History of the United States. 3rd ed., vol. 2, Boston, MA, Pearson, 2017.