The industrial revolution and the great economic success that
accompanied it had a wide variety of victims. As we have previously
discussed the American public, through the efforts of trusts, became
a victim of the elimination of competition. The consumer was not the
only victim however. The American worker was also victimized.
Factories began to replace small "cottage" industries. As the
population grew so did wants and needs. Manufacturers realized that
bulk production was cheaper, more efficient and provided the quantity
of items needed. As a result more and more factories sprang up.
Factory work is very different from other types of labor. The
introduction of the factory system had a negative effect on living
conditions. Factory owners who believed in Social Darwinism and
Rugged Individualism did not care much about those who worked in
their factories. They believed that if the workers wanted to improve
their; lives they had to do it on their own. Also, because no
particular strength or skill was required to operate many of the new
factory machines the workers were considered unskilled. This meant
they were easily replaced.
The owners of the early factories often were most interested in
hiring a worker cheaply. Thus they employed many women and children.
These workers could be hired for lower wages than men. These low-paid
employees had to work for as long as 16 hours a day; they were
subjected to pressure, and even physical punishment, in an effort to
make them speed up production. Since neither the machines nor the
methods of work were designed for safety, many fatal and maiming
Factory owners, especially those involved in the steel industry
and in the coal mine industry, often would build company
towns. Workers were given cheap rent in these towns to go along
with there low wages. In essence the worker was trapped. They company
town afforded him a place to live and without the job he couldn't
Those in the garment industry worked in sweatshops.
Sweatshops were poorly ventilated and lit rooms where seamstresses
sat side by side doing piece work (specializing on one piece
of the work thus never making a finished product.) The cloth would be
piled high, workers were not allowed to talk. Often sweatshop
employees where forced to work late into the night so that the job
was completed or they wouldn't get paid.
One of the most influential events in labor history was a direct
result of sweatshop conditions. The Triangle Shirt Factory
Fire killed 114 workers because the fabric could fire and tore
through the building. There were no fire escapes and the doors opened
out into the hall. The doors where blocked locking the workers in. As
result stricter building codes and fire regulations where passed.
Inside the Triangle Factory after the fire
Coal miners also faced difficult work conditions. Mine owners
often hired children whose small hands could fit into narrow openings
to scrape coal from the mine walls. Working 16 hour days with poor
ventilation and frequent cave ins these children might be paid a
dollar a day.
It was only a matter of time before these conditions would force
change. The question was when. With America embracing a laissez faire
philosophy few in government favored interfering on behalf of the
worker, of whom many where immigrants. The ideals of social Darwinism
and rugged individualism created the mentality that if the workers
where to improve their lot in life then they would have to do it
themselves, and it wasn't easy!
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