History of Labor and Work (1880-1945)

History of Labor and Work (1880-1945)


In the 19th century, there was a significant improvement on the American Republican ideals. There was increased commitment to independent production in the economy and respect of individual property rights. In spite of this rapid industrialization and civil wars affected how people interpreted the American republicanism. The reasons as to why the early 19th century artisan/farmer republican’s ideals were out of touch with the realities of the industrial workplace of the 19th century are presented in the study. It also presenters how the tensions between worker republicans, also referred to as labour republicanism and the employer republicanism were expressed and settled towards the end of the 19th century. It is evident that while there were significant challenges in industrial production and labor relations in the 19th century, much of these challenges were solved towards the end of the 19th century.
                                                       Critical Discussion

The early 19th century artisan/farmer republican ideals were out of step with the reality of the mid 19th century industrial workplace.  One of the key goals of the work during this period was to offer people their republican liberty. People were looking after being given their portion of land where they could work independently. This had led to the rise of free labor where people expected no pay for labor as they worked in their firms. The 19th century changes resulted in the establishment of factories.  People offered their services in these factories for payment. Change in the manner in which labor was organized was against the ideals of liberty. For instance, labor was highly mechanized and people lost control of labor. The permanent laborers lost chances of having a private property result in exploitation and the rise of a new form of slavery. Denying people the opportunity to run their firms and industries was against the ideals of republican liberty (Gourevitch, p55). As ZA result of this challenge, the need for unionization arose.  Forced labor that led to the exploitation of people and loss of their republican liberty was thus not sustainable in the long run. During the early 19th century, the rise of industrialization resulted in the employment of individuals in multiple industries including farming. As a result, it was no longer tenable to have people working in their own farms independently as they seek employment in industries. There was a shift to the legal ownership of job engagements with the industries as opposed to the scenario where such workers directly controlled production that they owned. In spite of this, As Gourevitch (66) indicate the ‘legal ownership was not sufficient to guarantee that employees would stop being subjects of their employers’. The implication is that the new mode of production limited the application of the previous artisan/farmer approach to production before the onset of the industrial era.

The early republican idea of autonomy and ownership defers significantly from the realities of the 19th century.  The introduction of the wage labor equally provided the locals with control on their work choices as they were not coerced to do what they were doing. Since the laborers could decide where to work for wages, they had control over their work. Their freedom rested on their ownership of the right to labor. They were not forced by anyone to work for a particular master. Unlike the servants of the earlier years, they could easily leave working with an employer that they are not satisfied with and seek work with a different employer. This reduced the need for such individuals working only in their firms as they could easily make money when working for other parties. Nevertheless, challenges later emerged. While employees enjoyed their rights by choosing the employer to work with, their legal autonomy was often interfered with. At the workplace, even though they were paid they were overworked and forced to engage in hazardous activities.  During the early period of the 19th century, wages varied significantly from person to person. Men were paid more during this period than the women (St. Martins 37).  Whites commanded better pay as compared to the people of color. Equally, the unskilled earned less as compared to the skilled craftsmen. These differences often resulted in dissatisfaction among the groups that felt discriminated upon. In the workplace, women workers led to the rise of controversy. People were concerned that such women should remain at home and look for the children as opposed to engaging in labor-based wages. Employers argued that women were engaging in work to enhance their wellbeing although they were already receiving support from their male counterparts. As a result, thus justified the reason as to why such women were paid less as compared to their makes counterparts. This development created a need for the establishment of collective power that would assist in addressing these challenges that the employees faced. Unlike the artisan/farmer assumptions where people op[ted to work on their own, the changes in the 19th century created a new change where such individuals were enticed to work as employees with assurance that their rights would be guaranteed.  Failure to respect these rights was against the republican ideals of autonomy. Often employees failed to develop the right approach to bargaining power in organizations. The artisan/farmer republican ideals thus differed significantly with what was going on in the labor industry in the 19th century. The rise of big organizations where people could work would result in lost autonomy in operations in instances where the employees failed to exercise fill bargaining (Gourevitch, 58)

Tensions between Labor and employer republicanism was expressed in diverse ways in the 17th century although the issue was significantly resolved towards the end of the 19th century. Labor republicanism denounced wage labor as unjust. It focused on the universalization of liberty in industrialized work environments. The labor republicanism sought cooperation in the economic production platform as opposed to domination and servitude. This resulted in employees forming groups in form of unions to fight for fair compensation and good workplace conditions. The unskilled laborers lacked control of their operations (St. Martins 37). The immigrants in the US, women and children and the impoverished in the country were forced by circumstance to engage in such business.  The Mexican Americans were also engaged in manual work compelled by their disadvantaged economic conditions. Workers in the 19th century had the same in common. They all worked for long hours and the working conditions were poor. As a result of these challenges, there was discontent among the workers. They felt that their push for liberty was being undermined. There was thus conflict between the employees and the workers. In spite of this the existing laws were still in the development stage and initially, they were not adequate. There was thus a need for change. As Gourevitch (62), ‘the employees engaged in the exercise of collective power to regulate working conditions’ On the other hand, employer republicanism sought the representation of the employer rights over the employees. Employers were also seeking gains from the services of the employees as long as they were compelled to compensate them.  These two parallel demands between the employer and the employee were solved over time based on a number of measures and as well as initiatives.  During this period, the workers raised concerns regarding the fact that even if the wage-labor approach was assumed to be free and supportive of the liberty of the employees, there were many challenges that it presented which needed to be addressed. In an effort to address the challenge between the labor and employer republicanism in the 19th century, the law of contract on labor was established. This implied that the employer and the employees could engage in agreement on how they would maintain the labor relation. Courts indicated that free labor was characterized by self-control rather than the lack of constraint. This implied that as much as the employees are provided with freedom in their engagement with the organization, they were still subject to the terms of the contract. Infringing the freedom of contract was thus viewed as illegal. Only the established laws that could objectively dictate the rights of the employees as opposed to the employers (Gourevitch 3). The law of contract in employment was thus a very important element that was used in addressing the challenges that existed between the employer and the employees towards the end of the 19th century, significantly enhancing work relations. As Gourevitch (66), indicates, ‘there was increased cooperative ownership as well as control of the productive property’. Unionization thus proved to be a major solution to the strained employer/employee relations. The rise of unions ensures that employees could engage in collective bargaining for their rights.


There were significant challenges that were faced by people in the 19th century in regards to labor relations and ownership of property. Having shifted from the master-slave relationship, many people thought that owning property was the best way of regaining their control. Under the artisan/farmer republican ideals, which were largely not in line with the industrial workplace at the time. In spite of this, the emergence of industrial firms resulted in people abandoning their farms and working in other peoples firms and fields for wages. While the new change was viewed as also promoting independence and control as long as employees had the opportunity to choose where to work and the work conditions were right. There was no guarantee that these elements would be met. Domination was common. As a result, labor republicanism emphasized freedom and better work conditions resulting in the development of cooperatives and labor unions. Adoption of unions and employment law played an important role in addressing these challenges.


Works Cited

Gourevitch, Alex. From slavery to the cooperative commonwealth. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, N.D.

St. Martins. Who Built America. Bedford: St. Martins, N.D