Progressive Era: Working Class
Progressive Era: Working Class
Workers during the gilded age were marginalized by their working conditions, low income, and limited working hours. To overcome the marginalization for the working class, they created labor movements and went on strikes. Although the workers had created many strikes and labor unions, they were at the least successful.
Workers were marginalized by the poor working conditions they had. A lot of the time the workers feared going to their workshops because they knew what they were getting themselves into. In 1906, Upton Sinclair, a writer during the gilded age, wrote a novel, The Jungle, in which took place inside work factories. He expressed the fact that the work was not easy by stating it was a “fearful kind of work, that began at four o’clock in the morning, and that wore out the most powerful men in a few years.” (Sinclair, 1906) Sinclair pointed out that the work that these men and women were put up to was brutal and that their working hours were long and sometimes unfair.
In accordance, Clara Lemlich had noted in an interview about the working conditions presenting, “whenever we tear or damage any of the goods we sew on, or whenever it is found damaged after we are through with it, whether we have done it or not, we are charged for the piece and sometimes for a whole yard of material.” (Lemlich, 1909) She created an image of fear and pressure by stating the fact that the women in the factories were also facing harsh conditions and a lot of the time low income. Marginalization for the working class during the Gilded Age was difficult to come by and their income was not their only issue.
During the Gilded Age, workers were also marginalized by their low income. Workers were paid unfair wages for their long working hours and sometimes charged for damaged goods, whether they did it or not. In an excerpt from the Clayton AntiTrust Act, a worker had argued for minimum wage, claiming that Hard, Dirty Work Should Be Paid For. They later outlawed child labor, in the Fair Labor Standard Act signed June 1938, and “guaranteed covered workers a minimum wage of 40 cents an hour and a maximum 40-hour work week.” (Clayton Act, 1914) This event shows that the workers were justified in a sense that there might have been compromise between the workers and the boss. There was an interview from a woman, from the Laundry Workers’ International Union, (AFL), named Ruth Green. In her interview she had brought up that “ The greatest number of workers in our plant, which is an interstate linen-supply service, makes 55 cents an hour.” (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1949)
She highlighted that although there were many people who worked in the laundry, they were paid a decent amount, being a worker. The workers were marginalized in their workplaces with their wages, although it wasn’t so bad unless it came to where their hard earned money was taken right from their hands. A woman, Clara Lemlich, was interviewed about life in the shop during the Gilded Age. She had experienced having her money taken from her presenting “Whenever we tear or damage any of the goods we sew on, or whenever it was found damaged after we are through with it, whether we have done it or not, we are charged for the piece and sometimes for a whole yard of the material.”(Lemlich, 1909) Lemlich expresses that while she worked in the shop she had a lower wage than what she earned for something she didn’t even commit. The workers experienced many hardships during this time in age but low income and long hours was not the worst of it.
Not only was the workplace for the workers rough, but also life threatening. Workers were majorly marginalized by the deaths and injuries in the shops. Sinclair had also witnessed a lot of stomach turning events while he observed life in the workshops. He had claimed, in his novel The Jungle, that “The hands of these men would be criss-crossed with cuts, until you could no longer pretend to count them or to trace them. They would have no nails,-they had worn them off pulling hides; their knuckles were swollen so that their fingers spread out like a fan.”(Sinclair, 1906) He stated this to point out that the workers had horrible conditions in the workshops and they needed to be justified in that state.
Similarly, a recent article ,Labor in Progressive Era Politics, expressed an event of deaths in a workshop located in New York in 1911; this event is well known by the name The Triangle Fire. In the article it states that the “Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York killed 146 garment workers in 1911, public outrage prompted the creation of a state commission to study the origins of the fire and the conditions of industrial workplace.”(Unknown) This event was not only tragic, but also a huge spark of the idea that the marginalization shall be no more. They were going to do what they needed to overcome the working conditions.
To overcome the harsh and terrible working conditions, workers decided to go on strikes to catch the attention of the “big guys” so they can make improvements in the workshops. Many of the strikes were unsuccessful, stopped, or ignored. The strikes went on for about twenty years, a few of them were: The Great Strike,1877; Haymarket Riot,1886; Homestead Strike, 1892; Pullman Strike, 1894. In a Speech given by Eugene Debs he had said “To realize this great social ideal is a work of education, and organization. The working classes must be aroused.
They must be made to hear the trumpet call of solidarity: economic solidarity and political solidarity.”(Debs, 1893) Debs, being a socialist leader during the time, of course was trying to say that the workers were ignorant and that they should be more agitated about going to their work place. Overcoming the marginalization for the workers was tough and a long work in process it was hard to whether it was a pass or fail.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 29 September 2016
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