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American Industrial Workers: A Struggle for Recognition Essay

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Updated: Apr 7th, 2022

Since most of the American industrial workers together with their supporters were from foreign countries, they understood liberty as having the ability to live and work in a foreign country under favorable working and living conditions. This attitude was endeared on them when they first decided to go to the land of opportunity to seek greener pastures.

This paper aims to show that the determination to win a struggle for recognition of their rights by exploited individuals can only be pushed to certain extents and that they will go to great lengths to ensure that they get heard.

The workers thought that the fact that they were foreigners did not entitle the owners of the factories that they worked in to exploit them. The general consensus among them was that they were ready to work for minimum wage as long as the conditions were favorable. By taking advantage of the foreign workers, the factories were raking in huge profits at the expense of their employees.

Liberty, according to them, would be classified as receiving ample pay for the services they offered. In this case, the service refers to work. Compensation that was offered by their employees ought to have been commensurate with the hours they worked as well as the economic conditions at the time.

The industrial workers in America also perceived the concept of liberty as being able to communicate or address their woes to the entrepreneurs of the company they worked for and actually get them solved. To the American industrial workers, liberty also meant being able to make their presence felt without the use of force. The ability to bring forth issues that concerned violations of their rights first as human beings and then as workers, without causing mayhem was fundamental to the success of their cause.

Another fact that elucidated the workers comprehension of liberty was the matter of child labor. When Bill Haywood made his speech at the common in Lawrence, he noted the huge number of youngsters who were part of the strike and did not relent in voicing his opinion. He bellowed that the youngsters ought to be in school instead of “slaving away” in the factories. This was a genuine concern that exposed the dealings of the mills. The use of juveniles in the factories was outrageous and was a direct violation of their rights.

The cause calls for sympathy since, in a very modest way, the workers were attempting to pass on their grievances using the relevant channels and yet all they met with was resistance. They encountered countless hurdles in their quest for justice. The government as well as the mill owners set up road blocks that were aimed at crushing the strike. This makes it easy to empathize with the workers and their demands which were met with hostility.

The mill owners and the government left no room for negotiations. They had a no nonsense attitude that only managed to bring the whole administration into disgrace. Their objections were based on facts that they pointed out which showed that the company was not willing to shoulder its responsibilities. With the proposals for the reduction of the working hours that were fronted by the government officials, came the implementation of the scheme.

The companies endorsed the plans to reduce the hours and accordingly reduced the wages that the workers were earning. This was not fair since they were already being paid very low wages and any further reductions would result in the already poor conditions that they lived in, worsening to the point of being unbearable for them as well as their children.

It is easy to empathize with the cause of the striking workers since they had tried to forward their issues to the President of the American Woolen Company and yet he had not even dignified their concerns by refusing to provide them with an answer. It is easy to understand and embrace the striking workers cause.

This is because it is practically impossible to stretch ones resources as far as they were expected to extend theirs. With the enhancements in the cotton industry brought about by the commencement of the new two-loom systems in the factories, cataclysmic results were imminent. A severe slump in the wages as well as the intense retrenchment programs and redundancy depicted a clear recipe for disaster.

Another challenge was the fact that Lawrence was the most expensive place to live in compared to any other region in New England. This did not favor the workers who were lowly paid. The living standards of the regions were high and yet the conditions under which the people lived were pathetic. In some quarters, they were termed as “superfluously perilous”.

Furthermore, in order to supplement their income, it became somewhat obligatory for the residents of Lawrence who worked in the cotton mills to accommodate or rent out parts of their abodes to paying guests. This was in a bid to complement their rent due to the exorbitant rates they were being charged.

Their grounds for striking were understandable because, as much as they tried to avoid violent confrontations with the authorities, the task seemed impossible. Each of the leaders who tried to intervene on their behalf was arrested and arraigned in court. This shows that the authorities were not willing to negotiate with them.

The general accord was that the unskilled laborers were unable to organize themselves once their leaders were arraigned in a court of law and thrown into jail. This notion was misplaced as it was meant to suppress the demands as well as the rights of the workers.

The mode of operation that the authorities used to arrest the leaders also leaves a lot to be desired. By using tactics such as murder which they later blamed on the leaders and subsequently arrested them, the government, through the police, only earned disrepute from diverse quarters.

This is because there was evidence in most of the cases that the accused were nowhere near the scenes where the crimes were committed. Coupled with the questionable judicial procedures used to sort out the cases, it is easy to see why anyone would sympathize with the workers cause.

By manipulating the system to suit their needs, the cotton industry magnates and the highly placed government officials (who either had interests in the cotton industry or benefited highly from deep rooted corruption that stretched to the higher echelons of the regime) deserved no empathy. This can be elaborated more by the arrests that were made when the workers went picketing at the gates of two mills.

They were soaked to the skin with water that was shot at them from the bordering roofs of the mills. When they threw back lumps of ice, 36 people were arrested and arraigned in court. The 36 individuals were subsequently and hastily jailed by a prejudiced judge who upon finding them guilty, stated that “the only way we can teach them is to deal out the severest sentences” (Watson 2006).

The factory entrepreneurs showed no sympathy to the children they employed. These youngsters were forced to work in the mills due to the diminished economic positions of their guardians and parents and therefore the mills deserved everything they got. The cause of the workers is also endearing to many people due to the fact that, at the height of the strike, they saw it fit to send their children away to safer regions due to the rising cases of extra-judicial killings which were being carried out by various departments of the government.

When the government went ahead and stopped a group of children from leaving the region at the railway station citing cases of individuals inciting others to strike, (while the actual reason was the attention that it was causing) they exposed their dark side. It is touching to read about how the police officers were lined up at the station and grabbed the youngsters from the hands of their minders who were then arrested and taken to court.

It warms the heart to know that the parents were willing to send their children away so that they would be safe and return only after the strike ended. However, the way that the administration sorted out the issue was not pleasant. They managed to make a mess of a good plan that was to take care of the young and innocent children who took no part in the strike. The workers who went on strike in Lawrence were truly justified in their cause and will continue to receive sympathy from all quarters.

Reference

Watson, Bruce. Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream. London: Penguin Books, 2006.

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