Unions and the Labor Movement

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1. Which do you think is a better form of unionism, industrial unions or trade unions, based on the evidence from the latter part of the nineteenth century? How does each type of union affect individual workers and promote overall betterment for the working class? Give examples from union events and specific unions 2. How and why were the Progressive Reformers able to bring the "theory" of American equality closer to reality when the Labor Union reformers seemed to fail? 3. Explain Victorian morality and sexuality in light of the reforms happening. Does Progressivism show a rejection of the Victorians or an extension of their morality?

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Based on the late 1800s, I would say that trade unions were better than industrial unions. Both unions wanted to improve working conditions. The goals of each union included higher pay, shorter hours, and better working conditions. The industrial unions, such as the Knights of Labor, also attempted to deal...

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Based on the late 1800s, I would say that trade unions were better than industrial unions. Both unions wanted to improve working conditions. The goals of each union included higher pay, shorter hours, and better working conditions. The industrial unions, such as the Knights of Labor, also attempted to deal with social issues such as ending child labor and fighting for equal pay for women. In the late 1800s, the trade unions had more success than the industrial unions. One reason for this was that the trade unions stuck to economic issues. The American Federation of Labor, led by Samuel Gompers, believed this would bring more credibility to the union movement. Another reason for the success of trade unions is that they only represented skilled workers. These workers were more difficult to replace if a strike occurred. The industrial unions represented skilled and unskilled workers. Since it was easier to replace unskilled workers, many strikes led by industrial unions failed. Strikes in the railroad industry, such as the Pullman Strike, and in the steel industry, such as the Homestead Strike, are examples of unsuccessful labor actions. There also was violence associated with these strikes, which harmed the image of the industrial unions. The Haymarket Riot, connected with the Knights of Labor, had a great deal of violence, leading to the decline of this union.

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The debate between industrial and trade unions divided the labor movement in the late nineteenth-century. The American Federation of Labor, the AFL, was formed in 1886 as a craft union under Samuel Gompers. Its philosophy was to unite mostly skilled workers in certain trades, so it was a trade union. Earlier unions such as the Knights of Labor and later unions (such as the International Workers of the World in the early twentieth-century) were industrial unions that were open to all workers. There were disadvantages and advantages for each kind of union. The Knights of Labor was largely discredited by the late 1800s, and the American Federation of Labor gained traction in political circles by representing skilled workers. On the other hand, the AFL excluded many workers, especially women, African Americans, and unskilled workers, causing it to be divisive and unrepresentative of the entire working class.

Progressive reformers may have been more successful in certain ways than the labor unions because they largely came from the predominantly white middle to upper classes (a notable exception was Ida B. Wells, an African American journalist who lead a campaign against lynching). For example, Lincoln Steffens, the muckraking journalist who wrote The Shame of the Cities, was from an elite background and was educated at the University of California by leading psychologists of the day in Paris. Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House, was from a politically prominent Protestant family. Labor unions, on the other hand, were associated with immigrants and non-Protestants. Several labor leaders were Jewish or Catholic, and unions strived to be inclusive. Therefore, the unions had a harder time being accepted by the Protestant elite, and labor unions were tinged by their (at times tangential) association with radicalism and anarchism. You should also examine what your text has to say on this subject.

The Progressive reformers largely embraced Victorian ideals (such as abstaining from sex before marriage) rather than rejected them. For example, social workers and workers at settlement houses were taught to reinforce Protestant ideals, such as marriage and cleanliness. The temperance movement, part of Progressivism, associated drinking with lewdness and sought to purify American culture of elements that were not Victorian in nature. The Progressives were Victorian at heart.

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