THE WAGE EARNERS AND SOCIAL REFORM
THE PENNSYLVANIA wage earners were the pioneers of the American Labor Movement, equally as courageous as those who blazed the trails and broke the sod in the land beyond the Ohio and the Mississippi, but with a much keener insight into the deeper meanings of democracy. They intuitively comprehended the dangers of unbridled business expansion, and marshalled all their energies to ward off its more desolating effects. They were among the first to organize into trade unions and to utilize and perfect collective bargaining techniques which would enable them to acquire a more equitable share of the wealth which they had helped to create. And when these actions proved insufficient they turned to the government for aid, and in their appeal for remedial legislation they developed a philosophy based "on natural law, social contract, and individual right."1
The workingmen of Pennsylvania, and the workingmen throughout the United States, had a profound faith in democracy. They were able at one and the same time to campaign vigorously against "monopolies" and appeal for governmental action in their own behalf. Nor were they being inconsistent as Professor Hartz has pointed out in his admirable study of Economic Policy and Democratic Thought in Pennsylvania.
The failure or the survival of a republican form of government, in the eyes of many workers, hinged on the development of a system of free public education. Their faith in education was sublime. Through it alone, many wage earners were convinced that a social revolution could be effected, and they vigorously assailed the prevailing system of charity schools as a direct violation of their natural rights.2
Whether any significance can be attached to the fact that the first agitation for social legislation in the Pennsylvania Legislature occurred almost simultaneously with the economic recovery following the great panic of 1819, and the waves of strikes which involved thousands of____________________
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Publication information: Book title: The Industrial Worker in Pennsylvania, 1800-1840. Contributors: William A. Sullivan - Author. Publisher: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Place of publication: Harrisburg, PA. Publication year: 1955. Page number: 209.
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