As we celebrate America’s Labor Day, I would like to wish all my readers a very happy holiday and please enjoy all the food, friends and fun. I will be back at it hard and heavy tomorrow.
This is one of my series I call, Professor’s Classroom, it is from my days of educating people on the politics and economics of the country.
This post is about the early years of the American labor movement.
The War of Independence has been won, the politicos have set about turning the colonies into a viable country, at best a very difficult endeavor.
Labor, as a productive group was very very limited. Workers were concerned , in those days, as now, with status and their families and livelihood. In the early days of the republic, workers were not as educated as the wealthy elites. The typical working class family was larger than their elite counterparts. In general, the workers were not receiving benefits that we take for granted today, like paid vacations, medical, educational, pensions, and overtime pay.
They were consumers, but had no power over their own destiny.
Even the great Thomas Paine, author of “Common Sense”, which gave the wealthy merchants and lawyers of the day a voice to convince the average colonist that independence from England was the only choice to be made. He wanted American legislatures to also levy progressive taxes such as an income tax according to ability to pay. Paine defended labor unions and collective bargaining and denounced maximum wage rates.
By 1820, workers began to experience the changes in markets. Carpenters, weavers, printers and tailors began by establishing labor organizations that would would oversee their intersts in the markets emerging in the country.
In 1827 the first major organization appeared in Philadelphia, the Mechanics Union of Trade Association. And it immediately entered into the political sphere by supporting the candidacy of Andrew Jackson for president. This was not a campaign of workers veruses capital, but rather poor against rich. The union wanted among other things, a 10 hour work day established by law, restriction of child labor, free public schools, abolition of sweatshops and imprisonment for debt.
The political arm became known as the Workingman’s Party and it was the first attempt for workers to acheive their goals through political activity. Unfortunately, four years later the party was disbanded because of the lack of participation of other labor, because they were not ready to put forth a united front against the interests of capital.
It was not until 1834 and the establishment of the National Trades Union was there another attempt to organize a national federation of labor, but it also failed to survive and was disbanded in 1837. That was the year of the war between President Jackson and Nicholas Biddle of the Bank of United States. Their ugly struggle caused the panic of 1837 and the consequences of their war left a mess for the next president to clear up, Martin van Buren.
But the depression that followed the 1837 struggle of the two men, put any labor organizing on a back burner, unemployment, bank closures, and a slow down in production were the leading causes of the postponing of a workers union.
These were the early attempts of American labor to organize workers into a strong voice of labor. It would be many years before the strong voices of labor would return.