Workers’ rights in America are essential to all employees as they protect them against discrimination under federal law based on religion, color, sexual orientation, race, disability, or even pregnancy. Between 1877 and the 1980s, there were several turning points in workers’ rights. These points had a tremendous impact on the history of America. The turning points are associated with counteracting forces involving working hours, workplace rights, labor laws, wages, and other working conditions (Foner 16). This paper seeks to explain three critical turning points for the workers’ rights and their impacts on American History.
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The Great Railroad Strike of 1877
The significant railroad strikes were a series of violent strikes across the United States in 1877. The Baltimore and Ohio railroad announcement of the second wage cut within eight months catalyzed the strike. Due to the economic depression of 1873, the railway company had taken advantage of the troubles associated with financial status to break the worker’s trade unions, and the railway work was already dangerous and poorly paid. The workers responded to the announcement by disconnecting all the locomotives and confining them on the roadhouse. They also declared that they would not allow any train to leave Martinsburg unless the railway company reversed the wage cut announcement.
However, Mathews dispatched federal troops, and after they arrived, trains started leaving Martinsburg on July 20th. The news of the strike spread rapidly, and soon, the men from the iron mills and factories joined. Steelworkers, miners, and laborers joined the action later, which made the strike grow and reach Chicago and included other Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh railways. However, the strike did not yield much since it was over by July 30th. The railway company continued to break the trade unions and to cuts workers’ wages.
Although this strike did not yield much, it had a significant impact on the workers’ rights as it catalyzed many actions that came to pass. As a result of the strike, the federal government enacted policies and approaches for protecting the general laborer (Foner 18). It also led to a rise in unions and facilitated the clamping down of corporation’s brutal treatment of workers. In addition, it showed enhancement of safety, and a safety compliance act came into effect in 1900. The act authorized all cars to be equipped with Eli Jenney’s automatic coupler and George Westinghouse’s automatic airbrake, leading to a significant reduction of workplace accidents.
The Rise of Cohesive Groups of Corporates
The corporation process began to lose development in the last three decades of the 19th century. Significant transportation and technological advancements and the rise of the factory system that transformed the economic landscape characterized this transition. Some of the issues that catalyzed the rise of corporations included violent conflicts between employers and workers discussed in the previous meetings (Foner 21). There was the gradual adoption of corporate ownership by business owners with the original intentions of raising capital, allowing businesses to run after the original owner’s death and limiting owners’ liability.
This process began with railroads and textile companies in the early 19th century, followed by telegraphs and coal companies. As a result of another depression in the 1890s, there was another round of wage cuts that led to another worker’s strike. This event formed the basis, and industrialists took advantage of an increasing number of privileges and rights that the court and legislators gradually granted to corporations. As a result of corporations and trade unions’ formation, which advocated for workers’ rights, an era of good feelings began in the 1900s.
The national civic federation (NCF) had a specific goal of developing harmony among the capital-labor relations, and it used trade unions as the task instrument. The NCF leaders believed there would be good productivity and efficiency as a result of good capital-labor relations. The American products would compete effectively in overseas markets since the final product will have higher quality and sell at the low process. In exchange for this, labor would benefit from higher wages, employment security, and, in turn, increased productivity and more sales. During this stage, as the labor union advanced their membership rolls, they advocated for workers’ rights, and their main tactic was withholding labor.
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This era was impactful to the workers since it enhanced the economic benefits that employees received. These benefits include fridge and wages benefits. Workers under the trade union wages started averaging between 5-20% above those who were not in a trade union. A critical advantage of this era is the ability of the blocks to challenge the employers’ decisions and represent the workers’ grievances. This was a turning point that represented workers’ rights and privileges, as now their voices could be heard through unions and corporations.
Rights to Wages, Equality and Labor Standards Act
This is a critical turning point in American Workers’ rights. The enactment of the labor law in 1963 that sets the duties and rights for employees and labor unions was such a relief to the American workers. The labor law protects against any form of discrimination in respect to occupation and employment. Regardless of race, marital status, color, gender, sexual orientation, or even pregnancy, the law protects all workers against any form of discrimination.
Initially, workers faced all forms of discrimination and racism, especially those who were not of American origin (Foner 16). However, the enactment of the law was a huge relief. In addition, the law brought a new deal of equality that enabled more than 3 million African Americans to get employment and other immigrants who initially could not get work due to discrimination.
The law also came with a new deal right to fair working standards and wages where the workers were guaranteed employment, benefits, and pensions. The fair labor standards act of 1938 established a minimum weekly wage and prohibited labor for children under 16. It marked the first time the federal government took the workers’ rights seriously and assured their rights in such a large magnitude. In addition, between 1963 and 1968, there was an improvement in wages’ operational standards and rights. Johnson’s great society aimed to eradicate poverty in America by providing numerous job opportunities to American corps and providing several training programs.
These issues served as turning points in workers’ rights as there was a new entitlement. No American work was susceptible to forced or compulsory labor, no child labor, and no discrimination regarding occupation and employment. Also, there was freedom of effective recognition, freedom of association, and rights to collective bargaining.
There have been various issues concerning workers’ rights in American history. Several important turning points between 1877 and 1980 have enabled workers to enjoy their rights as federal workers and experience equality. These are evident in the three impactful moments explained above.
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History: Seagull Fourth Edition. Vol. 1. WW Norton & Company, 2013.