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Lecture 1

37:575:101 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Class Conflict, Spoils System

Labor Studies
Course Code
Francis Ryan

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How did the rhetoric of the late nineteenth century labor movement tap into predominant historical
understandings of American democratic citizenship?
Provide an analysis of these understandings that connected rights in the workplace to broader
democratic rights
How did the speeches/languages/understanding of the labor movement support or challenge the
common/main beliefs of American democratic citizenship?
As large industrial and financial institutions secured ever-greater economic and political power, ordinary
Americans of all ethnic backgrounds found themselves increasingly subject to forces beyond their control.
In communities based on shared ethnic and craft traditions, working people’s daily interactions and the
organizations they formed fostered support and solidarity for individuals. Those communities and
organizations also nourished resistance to employers and to capitalism itself, in a wide spectrum of
protest and class conflict that marked the era.
An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by
private owners for profit, rather than by the state
Largely unfair to middle and low class people
Allowed transportation, promoting economic development across the continent
Small producers who had once dominated the local markets faced more distant
People were forced to transition from self-employment to wage work
Farmers, artisans, merchants, etc. Factory workers, etc.
In 1881 alone, 30,000 railroad workers were killed or injured on the job
Courts repeatedly denied damages to injured workers, maintaining that the workers
shared the blame for accidents and that by going to work, they accepted the risks of the
Consumers were mostly buying manufactured goods instead of homemade
Manufactured goods
Things that can’t be made at home
Faster production
The need for productivity expansion
Farmer machinery, to feed more industrial workers
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Workers’ earnings and the prices they paid for goods were subject to impersonal mechanism of world
trade and to decisions that were made on behalf of profit in remote corporate boardrooms
Employers reduce workers’ paltry wages
Clothing manufacturers required employees to buy sewing machines, needles, and thread
Some employers shifted the cost of rent, heat, and light onto the workers by hiring them to
manufacturing clothing, artificial flowers, and other small items in their tenement apartments
Miners were often paid with “scrip,” or company-issued paper money
Money that can only be used at company-owned stores, which charged highly inflated
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