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Unformatted text preview: Voos and Slott U .S. Labor History - Summary of Key Events Paula Voos and Mike Slott Spring 2004 - Lecture notes for Labor Studies and Employment Relations 100, Rutgers University WMHEC, Freehold NJ Part 1: Colonial America to 1870 1 . Most immigrants to colonial America were not free, and thus did not earn a wage for working . About 80% were indentured servants ("freewillers" who indentured themselves 2-3 years to pay their passage, or transported convicts and paupers who had to work 7-14 years without pay) or were slaves . Over time, many of the indentured servants did become free and settled as small farmers . The vast majority of African-Americans, however, remained in slavery until the Civil War. 2. Most Americans lived and worked on farms . According to Alfred Young (1985), on the eve of the American Revolution, the United States had 2 .5 million, non-indigenous inhabitants (2 million whites and 500,00 slaves) . Of that number, only 100,000 or 4% lived in cities such as Philadelphia or New York City . In these cities and the small towns of Colonial America, there was a small but growing sector of non- agricultural production and trade . 3 . Clothes, shoes, books, house ware items, and other non-agricultural goods were produced according to an artisan-guild system, which had previously been developed in Europe . In small shops, unpaid apprentices learned all of the skills associated with a particular trade (e.g. boot making) and, after several years, had the opportunity to become paid journeymen or craftsmen, and then to be "masters" or master craftsmen of their own shop . The journeymen were responsible for all of the processes involved in creating a particular product ; in this sense, they had a significant amount of autonomy over their working conditions . As long as journeymen had reasonable expectations of economic advancement out of the status of wage laborers, they did not see their interests as opposed to the master craftsmen nor did they organize separate unions. 4 . The shortage of labor in America, relative to land, tended to raise wages for both unskilled and skilled labor, but to a greater extent for skilled labor . However, with the growth of population and the expansion of the market, craftsmen increasingly turned to unions to protect their interests . Herman, Kuhn, and Seeber (1987, p 4) write: The first union (that is, a continuous association) was that of the shoemakers in Philadelphia in 1792. In 1793 and 1794, respectively, the carpenters and shoemakers formed organizations in Boston . In 1794 the printers organized in New York, as did those of Philadelphia in 1802 . During the next fifteen years, unions of one or more of the trades already mentioned, plus those of bakers, tailors, and others, were formed in most important cities in the United States ....
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