Social Darwinism And Laissez Faire Economics Essay

Social Darwinism And Laissez Faire Economics Essay

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Early in American history, refusing to work and trying to prevent others from working in an attempt to improve working conditions was considered a criminal offense, and could be tried as a criminal conspiracy. Disruption of labor was seen as harmful to society, and philosophies such as social Darwinism and laissez faire economics discouraged government action. This political atmosphere slowly began to change over the course of the 19th century due to changes in the American workforce. An influx of immigrants and working women changed the makeup of laborers, and early trade unions focused more on skilled workers than industrial ones. In the 1830s, juries found that combining efforts to raise wages was legal, ten-hour days became the norm, and the first child labor law was passed in Massachusetts, preventing children under 15 from working in factories unless they had attended school for three months during the year prior to their employment (u-s-history.com). One of the earliest notable unions, the Knights of Labor, was founded in 1869 with the goal of unionizing all American workers to increase negotiating powers. Led by Terence V. Powderly, the Knights of Labor had 700,000 workers by 1886 and was unique in that it encouraged black membership. After the famous Haymarket Square riot, however, this group became associated with violence and anarchy, and membership declined. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was founded the same year and led by Samuel Gompers, who had a more pragmatic and less idealistic approach to labor reform.
Despite these advances, labor issues became increasingly prominent in the early 20th century. As industrialization and banking began to truly take off, wealth was increasingly concentrated in t...


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...nsportation and communications and industrial restructuring (history.com). This led to nonunion competition and concession bargaining. With the beginning of the anti-union Reagan administration in 1980, membership fell steeply. Labor’s flagship industries of mining and construction decreased in importance, and only public sector unions held on (history.com). New immigrants from Asian countries like Japan, Korea, and Vietnam were willing to accept lower-paying jobs as well. One of the few positive developments for the labor movement was the improvement in working conditions for women, which stemmed largely from the women’s rights groups (u-s-history.com). The collapse of labor movement has led to economic policies that benefit the corporate sector, while worsening standards of living for American wage-earners set in for the first time since the Great Depression.

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