During the latter half of the nineteenth century, America witnessed an influx of
immigrants from non-western European countries, and the attempt of African
Americans, Asians and Native Americans to realize equal access to the country’s
social, economic and legal rights. Looking at the Gilded Age, How did Americans
respond to these aspirations?
Write an essay that explains why labor unions developed as they did in the
United States? What factors shaped the growth of labor unions during this
period? What factors delayed or weakened their growth? What were their
limitations and what achievements can they claim.
The origins of the labor movement lay in the formative years of the American nation, when a free wage-
labor market emerged in the artisan trades late in the colonial period. The earliest recorded strike
occurred in 1768 when New York journeymen tailors protested a wage reduction. The formation of the
Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers (shoemakers) in Philadelphia in 1794 marks the beginning of
sustained trade union organization among American workers. From that time on, local craft unions
proliferated in the cities, publishing lists of “prices” for their work, defending their trades against diluted
and cheap labor, and, increasingly, demanding a shorter workday. Thus a job-conscious orientation was
quick to emerge, and in its wake there followed the key structural elements characterizing American
trade unionism–first, beginning with the formation in 1827 of the Mechanics’ Union of Trade
Associations in Philadelphia, central labor bodies uniting craft unions within a single city, and then, with
the creation of the International Typographical Union in 1852, national unions bringing together local
unions of the same trade from across the United States and Canada (hence the frequent union
designation “international”). Although the factory system was springing up during these years, industrial
workers played little part in the early trade union development. In the nineteenth century, trade
unionism was mainly a movement of skilled workers.
System of Abuse
When they weere first established, labor unions served a wonderful purpose. The working conditions in
factories during the late 1800’s were horrible, and the pay was just as bad. Labor unions helped to stop
this abuse of laborers. However, in today’s modern times, the labor union systems are greatly abused.