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Discussing the Actions Taken by Workers and Government to Try to Correct Unsafe or Unfair Working Conditions in Factories as United States Industrialized

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In the second half of the 19th century, the industrial revolution in America had a huge transformation about politics, society, science, especially technology and economy and achieved a big jump in development of nation. However, it was also a darkness and hardest working condition for workers in factories. Unfair, unhealthy working conditions, child and women labor were main and rifle problems that workers and government try to take many actions to correct.

The first is the general situation of Industrial Revolution in America, the beginning of factory system, where workers and machinery together in one place to produce goods.  Industrial revolution reached America by 1800s and boomed after the civil war (1861-1865). During the revolution, the United States was transformed from an agricultural to industrial society, from hand and home production to machine and factory.

Many inventions were created that revolutionized and helped in forming modern America. They include cotton gin, light bulb, telegraph, sugar evaporation system, steam engine, sewing machine… These inventions have influenced the community by giving it a form of faster production and transportation. Besides, transportation expanded. Many new methods of transportation were arisen such as steamboat, canal, especially railroads. The manufacturing of steel, iron, machinery, petroleum fueled economic growth. Urban development occurred during industrial revolution. During the Industrial Revolution, many people left farms to work in factories. Throughout the late 1800s, industrialization fueled the need for more labor. A wave of immigration from Europe and Asia to the United States arose.

The whole economy developed dramatically, which attract the huge immigrant from other continents. The supply of labor increases unlimitedly together with demand of exploiting raw material and speed up manufacturing process. Therefore one problem arises are working conditions in factories. They include unfair or unsafe working conditions, child labor, and low salary of women. Children both boys and girls as young as seven had to work in the factories. They were paid less than women or men. Workers in factories typically worked as many as 12 hours a day, six days a week.

The second is working conditions for labors and actions given by workers and government to correct these problems.

Firstly, the working conditions were unsafe and unhealthy. In the late nineteenth century more industrial accidents occurred in the United States than in any other industrial country. By 1900s, industrial accidents killed thirty-five thousand workers each year and maimed five hundred thousand others, and the numbers continued to rise.

In textile factories, the workers were primarily women and children. The factory workers began their day at 4 am and it ended at 7.30 pm. They were allowed one break at 7.30 am for breakfast and another at noon for lunch. Factories often had no windows to allow for ventilation, or heating systems to help the workers stay warm in the winter. Poor lighting led to accidents. Workers hand and arms were crushed by machines, because there were no safety devices on them. Textile workers got lung diseases from breathing dust and fiber all day.  In power loom, the conditions of the mills were rather inadequate. ‘The quality of air in the mills was insufficient due to over 150 workers being cramped in a room with 293 small lamps and 61 large ones.’ [1] ‘Susan’s recurrent bouts of “sicknesses” may have been the result of the close air and fumes from the lamps which lit the area where the weavers worked.’ [2] Worst of all, none of the machines had safety guards so in mills where Mary Lou Emmons, a mill worker in 1940s worked ‘sometimes people would get their fingers caught…and sometimes it was dangerous because shuttles used to fly out and sometimes you would hear of somebody that you knew that lost an eye from a shuttle or it hit them in the head.’ [3]

There were not enough fire escapes, fire drills, wired windows, fire-resistant windows, worker injured on the job had no protection. Factory owners ignored problems and complaints of workers. Government used laissez-fair policies to ignore worker’s problems. Employers used many methods to end unions. They are blacklists, company unions, lockouts, open shops, scabs, yellow dog contracts.

Steel workers risked injuries working close to red-hot vats of melted steel.  In mines, cave-ins buried miners alive. If a worker got hurt, they got fired. There was no such thing as insurance. Coal miners worked from 13 to 16 hour per day with $1.00-$1.25. Miners suffered from “black lung” disease. A miner told about how dangerous mine working is: ‘my father was a miner. He died ten years ago from miner’s asthma…we were given work in the breasts and gangways. There were five of us boys. One lies in the cemetery-fifty tons of top rock dropped on him. He was killed three weeks after he got his job as a miner—a month before he was to be married. We get old quickly. Powder, smoke, after-damp [poisonous gas], bad air—all combine to bring furrows to our faces and asthma to our lungs.’ [4]

Besides, sweatshops were poorly ventilated and lit rooms where seamstresses sat side by side doing piece work. 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 example of unsafe working condition would be the triangle shirt waist factory fire. It is one of the most influential events in labor history was a direct result of sweatshop conditions. Dim lighting, lock doors, unreachable broken-down fire escapes, few elevators, and excess clothes piled up around the machines were problems. These factors led to the death of 144 workers.

Secondly, worker responses to poor factory conditions and low wages were varied. The first reactions of workers were that some employees intentionally decreased their production rate or broke their machines. Absenteeism, drunkenness at work, and general inefficiency were other widespread worker practices that contained elements of protest. In three industrial firms in the late nineteenth century, one-quarter of the workers stayed home at least one day a week. To a surprising extent, workers made the final protest by quitting their jobs altogether.

One way workers tried to achieve better working conditions was by striking and picketing outside their job. In 1919, more than four million American workers went on strike. One of the worst protests was the one at Haymarket square in Chicago. During the protest, an unknown person threw a bomb killing police. In retaliation, the police open fire on the crowd, killing some protesters. This event came to be known as the Haymarket Affair. It killed 11 people and injured over 100. Haymarket Riot was to fight for the 8 hour workday. The riot that leads to the establishment of an International May Day and help galvanize the labor movement around the 8 hour workday. The Haymarker Riot of 1886 helped to focus national attention on the issue and the call was taken up by other labor groups. Another example was the Pullman strike. During this, workers refused to work and it was eventually broken up by the militia. In 1913, garment workers in New York’s largest clothing factory went on strike for better working conditions. Their demands included an eight-hour work day, increased overtime pay, holiday leave, and union recognition. They won some concessions, including a fifty-four-hour work week, time –and-a-half for overtime and five legal holidays off.



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