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Were Workers in the Gilded Age Conservative Capitalists?

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Author Background: Carl Degler is a professor of American History at Stanford University. He is the former president of the American History Society and the Organization of American Historians. He is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for history. Thesis: America’s labor movement willfully accepted capitalism and acted conservatively to radical organizational changes in the economic system by corporations. •Modern capitalism’s history revolves are the freeing of land, labor and capital from the nepotistic values of traditional medieval society •Labor is made into commodity. It is free to flow where the factor market demands it. It is traded just like land and capital. •Labor unions spur a sense of community for workers. The workers become more individualistic; however, labor unions offered some communal solidarity. •The labor movement was ultimately a failure because it was too conservative and was weak against the profit-oriented social structure of the time period. •The Knights of Labor were a complete failure.

They didn’t encourage strikes, but rather promoted education, cooperation, and political. Their lack of organization ultimately doomed their existence and they lost the little bit of power they had after the 1886 Haymarket Riot •Gomper’s business-like mentality allowed for the American Federation of Labor to prosper. It’s focus on skilled workers made it more organized and successful than other labor organizations of the time period. •The AFL was not anti-capitalistic, in fact it promoted capitalism but wanted greater shares for the middle classes. They felt the corporations held too much of the profits. The AFL recognized private property. •Socialism’s failure in the United States during this time period is the biggest sign of the conservatism of American labor.

Socialism had formed in other counties during their industrialization; however, most labor leaders were convinced that there was no class system in the United States •The social structure was very fluid. Only 5% of unskilled workers ended with no property or occupation improvement in the latter half of the 19th century •The political democracy and new voting rights achieved prior to the industrial revolution were significant factors in the failure of socialism. •Capitalism is very successful! Even the working class experienced wage increases and by the turn of the century, America had surpassed Britain as the manufacturing nation in the world. Issue 4 (NO)

Author: Herbert G. Gutman

Author Background: Gutman was internationally recognized as America’s “leading labor and social historian” (TS 404). He taught at colleges and universities such as Stanford, William and Mary, and the City University of New York.

Thesis From 1843 to 1893, American factory workers tried to humanize the capitalist system through maintenance of their traditional, preindustrial work habits. •Most working people were excluded from historians’ studies of labor unions. Only 3 to 4% of American workers belonged to these Unions. Historians indirectly excluded these workers from the greater national culture. •Industrialization revolutionizes the American social structure. There is a great strain between the preindustrial social structure and the one that manifests after the major industrialization and urbanization of the US. •Gilded Age artisans were critics of the new technology that “undermined a subculture of work”. They continued to praise and honor their working habits. Lifestyle conflicts between workers and manufactures began to occur frequently. •Immigrants begin to compromise the vast majority of US (percentages include 78% in San Francisco, 80% in NY, etc). These major cities become hubs for immigrants. Ethnic groups form tight close-knit communities in these hubs and subcultures developed. •Poverty and suffering are omnipresent.

The immigrant working class managed to perservere and stay intact following the changes brought about by industrialization •Harrigan and Hart, John Sullivan support Irish coal miners that are on strike! •Geographic changes, property, and labor mobility reshaped ethnic communities. The lifestyles and subcultures of the time period changed dramatically! •Gutman notes that the term “social mobility” needs to be taken seriously. He notes a man named Hugh O’Donnell who improved his social statues; however, he decided to lead workers in the Homestead Strike of 1892! •“Proletarianization” and trade unions fear of dependence were the two main reasons for why immigrants and artisans supported land and currency reforms in the US. They feared that capitalism would transform America into Europe! The industrial changes depicted from 1840 to 1890 test this fear.

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