Labor unions began to emerge after the Civil War when working conditions in factories became harsh and unfair. The lack of safety, health conditions, and appreciation for the working men began to anger many of them. These men turned to forming an organized group in order to express their opinions and ideas on how to make their jobs more appealing for them. They advocated for shorter working hours, more safety codes, cleaner facilities, and more job opportunities by eliminating machines that replaced the average worker.
Labor unions were extremely beneficial to the growth of industry in the late 1800s. Unions such as the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor unified so many workers together- black and/or white, skilled and/or unskilled- that the idea of improving the lives of the workers was only one small aspect of what they essentially advocated for later on. They were not only beneficial to the growth of industry, labor unions were a main key in jump starting ideas on how to make the middles class life more livable as well.
As the factory industry grew, big businesses invested in machines to replace men in these factories as a way to produce products faster and more efficiently. The major problem with machines being built in these work places is that they no longer need the men to work. This caused a major increase in job loss and many men’s jobs were being replaced by robots that were said to do it better. Just as a human makes mistakes, machines often have many glitches in them which caused an inefficient job.
Unemployed men were furious with the big businesses because they were now becoming more and more poor looking for a new job that had not yet upgraded to machines. Labor unions expressed their opinions by striking. Thousands of men stood outside their jobs demanding these companies to hire them back. With the economy slowly starting to be run by these big monopolies, no one could afford to lose business or their weekly income. Since workers were so unsatisfied with the way they were treated, labor unions began stressing for social and economic reform.
These reforms included better wages – since they were barely paid anything- better working conditions, and more safety codes. Strikes became a popular way to protest labor union ideas since they were so powerful and so many people attended them. Thousands would stand outside a business demanding to be treated fairly. Strikes also aided labor unions to gain more supporters since people saw how powerful unions started to become and how much they got accomplished. By 1886, The American Federation of Labor was formed by Samuel Gompers.
Gompers promoted “pure and simple unionism” and a “fairer share for labor. ” He set a major trend for the public to appreciate labor allowing them to organize, strike, and collective bargaining. Now the middle class was finally beginning to be heard. Once all of the workers shared a common goal, all they had to do was reach for it. There is power in numbers and by 1886, there were four hundred thousand members in these unions and about fifteen hundred strikes. That was more supporters than any other year in history.
This high number of members gave labor unions an advantage of coming up with strong ideas, advocating them more efficiently, and gave them a higher chance of reaching those goals since there was so many of them. Gompers main goal was with getting fair treatment and better conditions “here and now. ” The unity of the factory men was unstoppable because turning them down only made them stronger. The workers never gave up on their goals and that is what made labor unions so strong. One man in charge made a difference in maybe a city or a town.
Fifteen thousand chapters of labor unions representing about one million workers made a difference in the entire country. Labor unions joined workers together around a common goal for the better of the middle class and the conditions in the working world. Men working in factories used labor unions as: a way to prove the big businesses that machines cannot always do what the average man can do, to back economic and social reform in their working lives as well as the lives of the middle class, and it unified one massive class of people together to make a difference.
The power behind these labor unions came from the amount of support it received in the thousands of strikes that occurred. Without labor unions standing up for worker’s rights, conditions would have been worse and never would have made any progress. Industries would have stayed in the exact same place they had before labor unions were formed; industries would not have grown at all.