Many people would argue that the Industrial Revolution was one of the most important events to have taken place on earth. It laid the first stepping stones on the path to all the technology we love and take for granted today. With the building of railways and telegraph networks and the ability to get and make oil, coal, and steel cheaper and easier, America was becoming a prosperous country. That is, for those who sat at the top. What many people don’t know or realize is that only a small minority of Americans were benefiting from this rapid rise in industrialism. These were the owners of big businesses and monopolies. The workers for said businesses were exploited and used for cheap labor.
With industrialism on the rise, workers were suffering from a litany of health and safety issues. Employers would often cut corners and disregard safety hazards if they believed they would make more money. They would also work their employees for long hours with little to no breaks and unfair pay. “Workers often toiled 12 hours a day, six days a week, for wages that barely covered basic living expenses” (Keene, pg. 485). No one seemed to care about the workers. Even the government turned a blind eye to the big businesses and passed few if any regulations for worker safety. So, to protect themselves, the workers started forming unions.
Unions were formed so that the workers had a voice in their workplace. If they felt that something was unsafe, they now had a group that could express the concern with the employer. If we felt like they were being underpaid, they had a group that could try to reason with the boss. If the employers wouldn’t listen to the union, the union would go on strike. This means that for as long as the union’s requests went unanswered, the members of the union would not work.
The idea of unions being formed was not a thought that employers liked to think about. Many employers despised unions because they no longer had all of the control anymore. If they didn’t meet the workers demands, the union striking would be the best case scenario. Worst case scenario, the union might form a mob and attack the employers or cause damage to the workplace. So a balance had to be kept between the employer and the union.
Keene, Jennifer, Cornell, Saul, and O’Donnell, Edward Revel Visions of America: A History of the United States, Volume 2, 3E.