With about from the workplace with little to

With the conclusion of the Civil
War, the United States was able to rebuild and strengthen its infrastructure
and foundational principles. Radical urbanization and reconstruction efforts
were able to come about, employing millions of American civilians along the
way. As expected, some individuals
had mixed views on how employment was regulated at the time. These individuals
banded together, forming collective efforts, to voice their concerns towards
the influential leaders. Some efforts were peaceful, while; others resorted to
more violent and sinister confrontations. These vile acts became the standard
for conflicts, impacting the daily lives of thousands of individuals.
Eventually, these conflicts were resolved, but not without severe losses along
the way. The labor movements of the late-1800s
exemplified great conflicts across the United States as demonstrated by the
struggle for the rights of workers, the fights between laborism and capitalism,
and the precedential use of federal authority.


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The working class in the United
States was heavily populated in the nineteenth century. An average of
20,000,000 civilians was employed in the labor industry (Vernon 710). Dangerous
working conditions, low wages, and child labor all contributed to the existence
of conflicts within this industry (Domhoff). It was common for deaths and
injuries to come about from the workplace with little to no reconciliation from
corporate officials.

Many labor workers experienced
similar conflicts during the late-1800s. Activist groups containing these
distressed individuals formed a union of labor workers (Domhoff). These labor
organizations were primarily formed for “defensive purposes — to protect
against what they see as arbitrary decisions, such as sudden wage cuts,
lay-offs, or firings… and force management to change dangerous working
conditions or overly long hours.” (Domhoff)

Workers utilized these labor unions
as a method to combat against corporate regimes by relying on the principle of
collective bargaining and their large group status when petitioning for reforms
(Hamel). Due to the influential presence of labor unions, rallied concepts
impacted working conditions across the nation (Domhoff). As time progressed, it
was not beneficial for labor unions to continue to employ passive measures for
their ideas and eventually resorted to more violent oppositions. Although there
were numerous amounts of labor movements within this time frame, the most
notable would be the: Great Railroad Strike of 1877, Homestead Strike of 1892,
and Pullman Strike of 1894 (Hillstrom 217). These labor movements capitulated
the greatest interests and brought about many conflicts.

Struggles for the Rights of Workers

Within the times of the
American Industrial Revolution (within the late-1800s), there were many
instances where the working class was treated unethically. Men, women, and
children worked fourteen to sixteen hours a day for six days a week with pay as
little as ten cents an hour (Regnery Publishing). Physical working conditions
and healthcare were severely dangerous and limited with “…a man was killed by
the railroad cars. Another had nearly all of his ribs broken. Another was
nearly killed by falling down and having a bale of cotton fall on him.” (Paul).
Due to the dreadful conditions that the American workers faced in this era,
they thought it was the utmost importance to rebel and refine the conditions of
labor in the country.

The Americans did so by
coordinating organized labor strikes/movements within the country. In response
to the anticipated 10 percent wage cuts by the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad
in the Great Railroad
Strike of 1877, workers in Martinsburg, West Virginia
responded by “uncoupling the locomotives in the station, confining them in the
roundhouse, and declaring that no trains would leave Martinsburg unless the cut
was rescinded” (Adamczyk).  Federal
troops assisted the West Virginia governor in restoring the railroad lines, but
the radical thinking of the workers started to spread into areas such as Baltimore,
Chicago, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and San Francisco (Mintz and
McNeil). Charles A. Malloy, of the Maryland National Guard, described the scene
in Baltimore with “…a mob, which blocked the streets. They came armed with
stones and as soon as we came within reach they began to throw at us.” (Mintz
and McNeil). At the pinnacle of the struggle, 14,000 rioters took to the
streets of Baltimore with Maryland’s governor telegraphing then-President
Rutherford Hayes for troops to protect and restore peace within the city (Mintz
and McNeil). A similar situation occurred in Pittsburgh with the Philadelphian
National Guard troops firing into a “crowd, killing more than 20 civilians,
including women and at least three children. A newspaper headline read: Shot in Cold Blood by the Roughs of
Philadelphia. The Lexington of the Labor Conflict at Hand. The Slaughter of
Innocents.” (Mintz and McNeil). Across the country, more and more labor
riots started to commence with each demanding better treatment of workers but
ultimately resulted in death, economic losses, and retribution for the

Towards the close of
the nineteenth century, it was more common for labor workers to petition
against multi-national, grand corporations. The Homestead Strike of 1892 was
one of the first examples of this profound move (Hillstrom 36). The United
States’ strongest labor union, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel
Workers, challenged one of the nation’s most powerful corporations, the Carnegie
Steel Company (Hillstrom 36). Henry Clay Frick, president of the Carnegie Steel
Company, viewed unions as “little more than criminal organizations designed to
extort money from business owners” (Hillstrom 37). When the union demanded for
better pay and other management concessions in July 1892, Frick called for the
closure of the plant as he believed that the plant closure would “destroy the
Amalgamated union and force the workers back to their jobs”, but it rather
resulted in the seizure of the entire factory (Hillstrom 37). Deeply angered by
this event, he hired a 300-man army from the Pinkerton Detective Agency to
reclaim the factory with force (Hillstrom 38). As Hillstrom quoted, “The
arrival of the Pinkerton, though set off a deadly exchange of rifle fire and
dynamite attacks (38). Although the corporation was victorious, the injuries
and deaths of the protesting workers instigated more mixed opinions across the
nations whether the corporations respected the rights of workers.

Fights between Laborism and Capitalism

            Workers joined labor unions to protect and protest for
their fundamental rights as independent working citizens (Domhoff). Business
owners, however; despised against the creation and presence of labor unions because
“if they are going to compete successfully in an economy that can go boom or
bust, then they need a great deal of flexibility in cutting wages, hiring and
firing, and adding extra hours of work or trimming back work hours when need
be” (Domhoff).
For a proper capitalist company to maintain a foothold in the market, the
corporate leaders must make decisions that may not be viewed as unethical to
some. Due to the large group nature of the labor unions, protests and riots
commonly opened in response to these wage cuts or employee reorganizations.

            As time moved on, more and more influential laborers felt
that it was necessary to institute a national labor organization to demand
their unalienable rights in the workforce. The Noble and Holy Order of the
Knights of Labor (Knights of Labor) was created in 1869 and emphasized “citizenship
rights, action in support of general social progress, cooperative forms of
organization for the society as a whole, and, significantly, the inclusion of
workers of all crafts and races in one union for the first time” (Domhoff). This
organization listed its demands that benefitted the entirety of the workforce
with notable examples such as “The abrogation of all laws that do not bear
equally upon capital and labor, the removal of unjust technicalities, delays
and discriminations in the administration of justice, and the adopting of
measures providing for the health and safety of those engaged in mining,
manufacturing or building pursuits” (Powderly 243).

            Once the aforementioned and other national labor unions
were created, it was simple for workers to demand ideas without much
interference from the corporate officials. The unions used the principle of
“replacement costs” that prevented corporate officials from bringing in
strike-breakers or replacement workers because of the high cost to do so
(Domhoff). In 1886, Samuel Gompers, formed his own labor union, the American
Federation of Labor, and later addressed how the savage capitalist classes consider
themselves and their workers (Hillstrom 164). He found that “The state of
industrial anarchy produced by the capitalist system if first strongly
illustrated in the existence of a class of wealthy social parasites; those who
do no work, never did any work, and never intended to work” (Lowell 203). The
capitalist company officials lived in a lavish fashion while their workers endured
such hardships. Gompers also found that “while failing to protect society in
its consumptive capacity, the capitalist class has shamed and degraded society
in its productive capacity” (Lowell 204). The corporations failed to treat
their employees ethically and instead dishonored them. Capitalist corporations
regarded their capitals as “essentially if not absolutely their own”, whereas
labor unions believed that it was gifted to all and took a more “comprehensive
and purer view” (Lowell 204). Organized labor movements allowed for these laborers
to actively voice their complaints against the oppressive capitalist regimes,
in an attempt to persuade these companies to provide more degrees of comfort
and wages to the workers.

Precedential Use of Federal Authority


            The federal government has
continuously intervened in labor riots with workers subject to the federal military,
state militia, and other governmental personnel. The most notable intervention
by the federal government would be during the renown Pullman Strike.  The Pullman Company was a multinational
corporation that manufactured railroad cars, headed by George Pullman, and “by
1894 it operated “first class” sleeping cars on almost every one of
the nation’s major railroads. The name Pullman was a household word”
(Department of History). Pullman, using his wealth, created a company-owned
town on the outskirts of Chicago which company workers were required to house
at. It touted itself as a “model community filled with contented, well-paid
workers” (Department of History). However, it was quite the contrary for the
company’s workers.

            With the existence of the economic
depression of 1893, Pullman corporate officials continued to lower wages of its
labor employees, sometimes up to 25 percent, while maintaining the salary of
its officers, managers, and superintendents (U.S. Strike Commission). To
increase profits, mass layouts of over 2000 workers were taken (Department of
History). Even with the wage cuts and layoffs, the rents at Pullman, Chicago
continued to rise with “If we exclude the aesthetic and sanitary features at
Pullman, the rents there are from 20 to 25 per cent higher than rents in
Chicago or surrounding towns for similar accommodations” (U.S. Strike
Commission). These changes in the Pullman Company resulted in the workers
actively voicing their complaints in the American Railway Union, led by Eugene
V. Debs.

            Debs called for trainmen to refuse
to operate locomotives on which Pullman sleeping cars were attached to and
eventually caused more than 100,000 workers leaving work rather than to handle
Pullman cars (Department of History). On June 29, he conducted a large and
peaceful gathering in Blue Island, Illinois, but that was quickly followed by
enraged crowds setting fire to nearby buildings and derailed a locomotive in
use by the United States Post Office (Domhoff).
The federal government was very dismayed after this act as it was unable to
fulfill one of its most important responsibilities as outlined by the Postal
Clause of the United States Constitution (Cleveland 18). President Grover
Cleveland personally intervened in this case and requested for a document
unprecedented at the time for a president as well as the national government against
these strikes and boycotts (Cleveland, “Grover

            President Cleveland declared that
these actions are illegal and interfere with his constitutional responsibility
to protect the free-flow of post mail within the United States. While the
judicial department prepared a federal court injunction to bar the union
leaders from supporting this strike, President Grover Cleveland sent an open
letter to Eugene V. Debs and others leaders of the American Railway Union,
quoting that “You are hereby restrained, commanded, and enjoined absolutely to
desist and refrain from in any way or manner interfering with, hindering,
obstructing, or stopping any of the business of any of the following-named
railroads…and from in any way interfering with, hindering, obstructing, or
stopping any mail trains… between or among the States…”, and also mentioned
that these same leaders were barred from any communication with the employees
at the railway corporations (Cleveland, “Grover Cleveland…”). The leaders of
the union failed to recognize the court injunction and continued to incite more
protests, further restricting the flow of mail trains. This prompted the
federal government to employ its military to silence the protests and restore
order within the area (Cleveland 27-28).

            The military was not enough to fully
silence these protests from occurring. Over the course of many days in early
July, there were still numerous violent protests with property damages,
injuries, etc. (Cleveland 30-33). President Cleveland issued another Executive
Proclamation to combat these protests in the city of Chicago. The governor of Illinois was very
distressed with the presence of troops in his state quoting that “I protest
with all due deference against this uncalled-for reflection upon our people,
and again ask for the immediate withdrawal of these troops.” (Cleveland 41). President Cleveland continued to stand firm
by his stance and quoted that “If it takes the entire army and navy of the United
States to deliver a postcard in Chicago, that card will be delivered” (Freidel
and Sidey 51). These unheard-of decisions made by the President caused him to experience
great conflicts, even within his own party affiliation.  As Freidel and Sidey quoted, “Cleveland’s
blunt treatment of the railroad strikers stirred the pride of many Americans”
(51). His policies and handling of the situation during this time resulted in
his own party deserting him and nominating William Jennings Bryan for the 1896
presidential election (Freidel and Sidey 51).


            The labor movements of the
late-1800s exemplified great conflicts across the United States through its
conflicts regarding workers’ rights, the discrepancies of profit over workers,
and the conflicts emerged from the unheard-of use of federal power. Labor movements have traditionally
been a site of tremendous conflicts, and throughout these, many fatalities,
injuries, and property damages have all occurred during numerous strikes and
protests. Economical conflicts also emerged from united labor groups and
oppressive capitalist companies because these corporations were solely focused
on profit rather than their workers. Many governmental conflicts emerged from
the creation of the methods to stop these protests/movements because never in
history before has the federal government employed the use of injunctions
against strikes, inciting many mixed opinions and more conflicts. While the
federal government did eventually institute a new federal holiday, Labor Day,
to pay respects for the hard-working Americans, it was not enough to fully
recoup its damages produced by the labor movements. The labor movements in the
late-1800s invoked great conflicts physically, economically, and legislatively.