Immigration in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

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What was the impact of immigration on American industrial workers from 1865 to 1900?

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Many of the new immigrants during this period became industrial workers. There was little opportunity for someone coming from Europe with no money and few connections. The new immigrants drove up the supply of unskilled labor and this led to less power for industrial workers as a whole. They were viewed as replaceable. Many worked in dangerous conditions for long hours for low wages. Without a minimum wage, workers could be paid whatever their employer thought appropriate. Many new workers even became "scabs," laborers brought in to replace workers on strike. Many of these scabs were the newest immigrants of all who did not speak English fluently. This led to confusion as they faced violence going to work while having to go through picket lines. Immigration during this period hurt the industrial workers' wages and also created xenophobia as it appeared as though the new workers were taking jobs.

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First of all, we should note that most of the immigrants became American industrial workers during this time.  Therefore, it is accurate to say that immigration created many American industrial workers. Immigration greatly increased the number of American industrial workers.

The major impact of the immigration was to reduce the power of the industrial worker.  The huge influx of immigrant labor meant that there was a plentiful supply of people who were willing to work in the factories.  Because of this, the employers enjoyed a buyer’s market.  If some workers did not like their wages or conditions, they could easily be replaced from the huge pool of labor that was constantly being augmented by immigration.  This meant that employers could mistreat workers and workers could do very little about it.  In this way, immigration hurt the American industrial worker by making it harder for them to have any leverage over their employers.


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