American History: The Gilded Age

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The Gilded Age was the last three decades of the nineteenth century, when America’s industrial economy exploded generating opportunities for individuals but also left many workers struggling for survival. With the many immigrants, skilled and unskilled, coming to America the labor system is becoming flooded with new employees. During this period, the immigrants, including the Italians, were unskilled and the skilled workers were usually American-born. There was also a divide in the workers and the robber barons. Robber barons were American capitalist who acquired great fortunes in the last nineteenth century, usually ruthlessly. There was much turmoil throughout the business and labor community. Two major organizations, the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor, helped represent the workers in this time of chaos. The Knights of Labor, founded in 1869, were representing both skilled and unskilled workers. They were quite popular with a large boost in membership becoming the biggest union in 1885. They sought for equal pay and equal work. All were welcomed to the Knights of Labor; there was no discrimination on race, gender, or sex. They called for an eight-hour day in order to reduce fatigue and for safety issues. The Knights of Labor Declaration of Principles states their purpose is to “make industrial and moral worth, not wealth” (Reading 9, p. 1). This means the moral worth is to what they could contribute to society rather than monetary gains. They were working towards this improvement of the common mans life to advance in civilization and create new ideas for society. They also called upon the employer to treat the employee with respect and fairness so they can contribute to not only their company but to Amer...

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...they will not settle for less. Time is wasting. For, “Time which brings us from the lowest condition up to the highest civilization; time, so that we can raise men to a higher plane” (Reading 10, p. 2). Gompers has greater aims, for he wants to better America to keep advancing and creating. Of all of America, Chicago was the fastest growing city because of its railroad factory, which needed unskilled laborers like Italian immigrants. “The production of steel defined industrial Chicago” (Slideshow 7: Italian Immigrants in Chicago). If Italian immigrants were not in New York City, they were in Chicago. Wherever they lived they were experiencing horrifying working environments. In order to understand why these changes in conditions were so necessary between, it is essential to analyze the experiences of pre and post 1880 immigrants, especially that of the Italians.
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