The Importance of Labor Unions

The Importance of Labor Unions - The Importance of Labor...

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The Importance of Labor Unions to Improved Working Conditions As the nineteenth century drew to a close and the dawning of a new century emerged, the United States underwent a huge transformation in its production system as an industrial boom began to take form. Between the 1875 and the early 1900’s many industries such as the railroad, steel, and oil industries emerged, which depended on the relentless labor of poorly paid workers. Moreover, as this industrial productivity increased, the working conditions of laborers of the time significantly deteriorated. Had it not been for the efforts of newly emerging labor unions, such as the National Labor Union, Knights of Labor, and the American Federation of Labor, these workers might never have gained improved working conditions. During this increase in industrial activity, the activity of the industries’ employees increased substantially as well. By the time that the twentieth century arrived, almost every person who was employed in a factory worked six days a week and ten hours per day. This included men, women, and children alike, with almost 1.7 million children working in industrial occupations by 1900. Additionally, one fourth of the factory workers of the time were women. However, regardless of age or sex, working conditions were dangerous for all. Factory employees, who were often poorly trained, were required to work almost constantly with dangerous machinery. When long hours and tedious work contributed to boredom or lethargy, workers were often injured. Between 1880 and 1900, accidents with machinery at the workplace caused an average of 35,000 deaths and half a million injuries per year. Yet, in spite of this constant risk, workers were rewarded with very little pay, earning an average of only $1.50 for an entire ten-hour workday. Additionally, the cost of living for the average American worker at the time was about $600 per year, but most factory workers earned only about $500 annually for their labor.
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With all of these problems in the workplace, there was an obvious need for some improvement in the lives of the working class. To answer this need, there emerged groups called labor unions. These groups, which often consisted of workers of the same trade or skill level, sought to improve every aspect of the working experience. They had, in face been in existence since just before the Civil War, however, it wasn’t until the turn of the century that they became really prominent. One of the first of such groups was the National Labor Union. Following the Civil War, a group of craft and railroad unions, as well as other reformers, brought together skilled and unskilled workers in this nationwide union. For several years, the NLU remained quite popular and by the 1870’s it had more than 600,000 members. Angered by the long hours assigned by
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The Importance of Labor Unions - The Importance of Labor...

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