As urban industrial workers expanded in the 19th century, industry and the industrial work force boomed as well. Workers , however, were met with difficult situations that ultimately led to violent outbursts. Low wages could not buy food and clothes at the same time and conditions in the work place brought about countless deaths and injuries. Growing number of immigrants caused the reduction of wages and insecurity of the workers caused unemployment. There were hostilities between workers, employers, and organizations and complaints of no social safety nets. Due to these chaotic dilemmas, union members decided to emerge as one, in order to overcome the corporations. Methods of scientific management were incorporated and the two ideological groups (radicals and conservatives) were firmly rooted in the belief of mutualism. However, conflicts between anarchists and capitalists ignited strikes, generating the Haymarket Square Riot along with the Homestead and Pullman strikes. It was then clear that they could not eliminate corporate control. Even with unity, the workers resulted in a fruitless effort.
Urban industrial workers were bombarded with many problems, a major one being long working hours. They not only had to endure endless hours of labor and turmoil, but received scarcely any pay at all. To make things worse, they were struggling to exist in the late 19th century where industrialization was flustering and depressions were part of the norm. An average American worker earned a measly $500 per year and a woman only half as much as the men. People were not making enough money to purchase the necessities of life and thus, lived a hard, struggling life. A woman stated she didn’t “live” , but merely “existed”.. she didn’t live that you could call living.”
However, even at low wages, an incredible number of hours were being worked. Skilled workers worked an average of 50.4 hours a week and the unskilled at 53.7 hours a week. Where machines replaced workers, the cost of the equipment had to be covered by intensive labor. Steelworkers, for example, worked on average 63.1 hours per week; some laborers were even required to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, with even a 24 hour shift and only one day off every two weeks.
Long laborious efforts began to produce in the US one of the most highest industrial accident rates in the Western industrial world. Between 1880 and 1900, 35,000 workers were killed annually and another 536,000 were injured. There were more deaths in the working field of railroads and coal mines. There were at least 2000 fatal injuries and one of every 399 railroad men were killed. In addition, unsafe working conditions played a major role in the suffering of the industrial workers. Conditions in the factories were very poor. In California, 2,000 men, women, and children would share 8 untended outdoor toilets, eat and sleep among insects, and labored temperatures over 100 degrees, often without water available. To top it off, there was a swarm of immigrants that caused factories to be overcrowded. As immigrants increased, working force increased, leaving employers to control the wages.
If it wasn’t low wages or long hours, it was job insecurities. Only a few workers could count on full-time employment. Depressions and recessions led to cyclical employment, style and weather caused seasonal employment, and machines replacing humans brought structural employment. There were no social welfare programs or a social safety net to turn to. A social safety net was a social welfare program funded by the government that compensated for the injuries, illnesses, and welfares for workers and single mothers. No safety net meant bad news to the unemployed workers.
There were 3 level of workers: unskilled workers (who were laborers), machine workers (who were operatives), and skilled workers ( who were craftsmen). The corporation’s ideal workers were ones who used their hands and not their brains. Wanting to control the output, they tried to get rid of the worker autonomy and the “brains” and replace them with operatives. This looked as a threat to the workers who knew what would result of unlimited output: irregular employment and price cuts.
A plan known as “scientific management” was devised by a man named Frederick Winston Taylor. It was made to destroy the craft unions and social formations. Taylor, who was an efficiency expert, was engaged in scientific time and motion studies. He was out to reform the factories. He enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best tools, and enforced cooperation. These enforcements rested with management and eliminated all worker ethical codes. As a result, craftsmen were converted into operatives, eliminating the brainwork of manual labor. Definitions of a “good job” were all linked to higher productivity. Scientific management threatened to execute all trade unions and introduce open shops.
The workers’ only solution was unity. Working together by organizing all the unions into one was the only way. They realized that they needed to make some organization against the corporation and the only way to get what they wanted was through “concerted action.” They had to organize concerted action and assemble a new sense of social goals that would be shared by all the workers. They were against individualism and thus created the union movement. Speeches, writings, meetings, dances, and strikes were implemented to carry out their goal of unity.
For the workers, strikes became the most efficient means of expressing their beliefs. Union memberships began to grow in numbers. Once the government started to side with corporations, workers responded with violent attacks. The labor movement divided into two antagonistic ideological groups: the radicals and the conservatives. They both believed in mutualism. Mutualism was based on cooperation rather than competition. It was the foundation for the conservatives who wanted to reform corporations and also for the radicals who wanted to overthrow it. In December 1886, Samuel Gompers helped all the small conservative labor unions to merge into one. The American Federation of Labor marked them as representatives of the working class with good behavior. The radicals believed in anarchism which was not antagonistic. They sought individual freedom, mutual cooperation, and self-reliance. To avoid direct, final confrontations with capitalists, they applied to the “Chicago Idea”. It was a combination of anarchism and revolutionary unionism that implemented these goals: 1) destruction of the ruling class 2) establishing a free society based upon the cooperative organization of production and 3) equal rights for all without distinction of sex or race. In order to end capitalism and the government, radicals discovered a weapon that would give them power. It was the dynamite, a panacea to all their problems. It was seen as the equalizer and the symbol of retribution. Radicals would use this weapon of emancipation to blow them up and kill!!
The first strike (lock-out) struck in 1886. Workers (a number of 34,000+ were thrown out of work) were immersed in a national crusade for the 8 hour workday. McCormick Reaper Works had locked them out and brought in scabs. Workers became enraged and on May 3, 1886, police fired shots into the crowd of strikers, killing 4. On May 4, vengeful anarchists held a meeting in the Haymarket Square. They had speeches led by Albert Parsons, August Spies, and Louis Lingg. In a matter of the next 5 minutes, a dynamite was thrown at the police by an anarchist in the crowd and seven policemen were killed. The anarchists at the meeting were charged; 4 were executed, 3 were sentenced to prison for life, and one committed suicide. The Haymarket Square Riot led to hysteria, panic, fear and hatred-what seemed to be the accumulated tensions of the society finally being released. Being the first “red scare” in history, anarchism was “exiled”.
In 1892, another lock-out caused yet another violent outbreak. In Homestead, Pennsylvania, Henry Clay Frick was given orders get rid of all the union workers. Wanting to replace them with scabs, he locked them all out in July 1892. When he strikers saw the Pinkertons, a private monetary army that protected corporations, it was war. Pinkertons surrendered and the plant was reopened to the unionists. Replacing the unionists caused the production of three times more steel and an increase in profit by $36 million. The defeat of Homestead marked the end of union trade and steel industry and unionists lost against the corporations.
During the Panic of 1893, depressions caused many businesses to be on the brink of bankruptcy. The Pullman Company in Chicago decided to cut the wages of its workers. Due to Pullman’s monopoly on sleeping cars, the American Railway Union (ARU) was created by Eugene V. Debs. The ARU was ordered not to handle the sleeping cars. Railroad officials saw this boycott as a chance to break up the union. The ARU spread the strike all throughout the country which resulted in the disruptance of US mail. President Cleveland sent in troops to cease the strike with the help of Attorney Olney. The ARU was stopped and Debs was put in jail. The corporation won once again, but this time with the power of the government and its arbitrary power over corporation rule.
Workers did become “one” and worked well together as “one” but did not succeed as “one”. Even throughout lock-outs and strikes, they were suppressed by government power and corporation rule. The power they had hoped to gain as they united wasn’t strong enough to overcome the arbitrary rule and omnipotence of corporations and the government. Miseries of their laborious life continued as hours remained long, wages remained low, conditions remained unsafe, and workers remained disheartened.