The Industrial Worker in Pennsylvania, 1800-1840

By William A. Sullivan | Go to book overview
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THE RETURN of prosperity in the decade of the 1820's saw a resurgence of trade union activity, and the real beginnings of a labor movement in the United States. The period is characterized not only by the tremendous increase in labor strife and unrest but also by the appearance of stable organizations in numerous trades, such as, the carpenters, the tailors, the hatters, the bricklayers, the house painters, the stone cutters, the cabinet makers, the cordwainers and others. Moreover many of these trade unions participated in the founding of the city central which marked the beginning of the labor movement not only in Pennsylvania but in the United States.1 All trade union activity prior to this time had been conducted by separate trade societies and as John R. Commons so aptly stated, "an isolated society might create a disturbance -- not until it united with others could it create a labor movement."2

Spurred on by the democratic forces which were making themselves felt throughout the country at this time, the wage earners of Pennsylvania, keenly aware of their importance both as a political and an economic force and convinced that their oppressions were great and constantly increasing, played an active and leading part in urging the working men to present a common front in their struggle to right these wrongs.

In 1827, the drive of the building trades' workmen in Philadelphia for the ten-hour day resulted in the formation of the Mechanics' Union of Trade Associations, the first coordinated movement of different trades in the United States.3 For the first time these workers evinced an awareness of the universal nature of their problems, and a realization that these could only be solved through their united efforts. "It has often been necessary for those who feel aggrieved, to associate, for the purpose of affording to each other mutual protection from oppres

See George E. McNeill, The Labor Movement, the Problem of Today ( New York, 1887), pp. 71, 72; Richard T. Ely, The Labor Movement in America ( London, 1890), p. 3; Commons, History of Labour, I, pp. 156, 169, 185.
Commons, Documentary History, V, p. 21.
The Pennsylvanian, April 5, 1836.


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