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.
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.
employees, who were often poorly trained, were required to work almost constantly with
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