Industrialism had a massive effect on industrial workers in the late 1800s. When people view the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s they think of wealth and peace, but that was far from the truth. New technology was one of many difficulties industrial workers faced. Most workers had to work 12 hour days, 6 days a week for wages that barely covered day to day living. And because of the new technology a lot of workers were unskilled and untrained in the tasks that they had to do. Most workers earned $400-$500 per year, when $600-$800 per year was required to live decently. A lot of the times families had to send their children to work.
Severe depressions (1873-1877 and 1893-1897) brought widespread business failure and high unemployment. The depression of the 1870s resulted in the loss of one million jobs and 50,000 businesses. The industrial workplace was very dangerous, yet another difficulty workers had to face. Between 1890 and 1900 35,000 workers were killed and 500,000 injured. Most injuries were because there were no laws in place to make workplaces more safe. Another difficulty was the rise in child labor. Between 1870 and 1900 the number of children working went up from 700,000 to 1.7 million. Children as young as seven worked long hours in dangerous conditions. Many states passed laws protecting children from working, but they were never enforced.
Most employers saws unions as threats to their businesses and profits. Many hired spies so they could expose labor organizers so they could be fired and put on blacklists, a list of workers that employers refused to hire. During strikes, employers would hire replacement workers and enjoy support from officials. To make matters worse, few unions had the resources to support strikers. Irish immigrants formed an organization called the Molly Maguire’s that went against foreman and managers through acts of violence and murder. This is why employers felt unions were very dangerous. Employers felt all unions did was bring about acts of terror and violence.
The benefits workers saw in unions are the partial protections that they gave to workers. Even though it was not much protection it did secure their wages to a point. Without the unions wages would have been brought and kept down to the starvation point, if workers accepted every reduction of wages. And workers felt it gave them power to fight for equal pay, stop child labor and for shortened work hours and safer work conditions.
Keene, Jennifer D., Saul T. Cornell and Edward T. O’Donnell. Visions of America: A History of the United States, Combined Volume, 3/e. Boston: Pearson, n.d.