A People's History of the United States Questions and Answers
by Howard Zinn

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Was the labor movement in the 1880's and 1890's successful?

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The labor movements of the 1880s and 1890s were not successful. Initially, riots were spontaneous but the 1880s and 1890s saw massive, organized riots and protests by laborers. This was mostly due to a worsening economy, extremely low wages, higher costs of living, as well as increasing unemployment. Each movement was faced with fierce opposition by state and federal law enforcement. Large number of workers were killed in the labor movements within these two decades. Workers were poor and did not have the means to continue their struggle when police violence and arrests were so rampant.

There were over 1400 strikes in 1886 alone. Black workers mobilized in 1886 in Louisiana for higher wages; it resulted in martial law being declared with many protesters killed and arrested. In 1891 and 1892 miners protested against mine companies in Tennessee. In 1892, railroad workers and miners in New Orleans, New York and Idaho went on strike. But all strikes and protests were ended by law enforcement, federal troops and even the National Guard. In the same year, plant workers in Homestead went on strike and were stopped by state militia.

The economy worsened in 1893 and in 1894, railroad workers went on a massive strike around the nation due to low wages, being worked excessively and increases in on-the-job deaths. The American Railway Union was established. Strikes were stopped with state militias and federal troops.

None of these efforts resulted in any significant changes in the conditions of work and pay for laborers. So they were not successful and in fact, laborers paid a high price, some getting killed and others getting arrested or fired.

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