The Position of the Worker in American Society, 1865-1896

The Position of the Worker in American Society, 1865-1896

The Position of the Worker in American Society, 1865-1896

The Position of the Worker in American Society, 1865-1896

Excerpt

The Position of the Worker in American Society, 1865-1896 is a volume in the American Historical Sources Series, a series devoted to the process of interpreting historical evidence. The introduction to each volume will be followed by some of the original documents used to prepare the essay. Readers are thus invited to share the experience of turning raw evidence into history. The essay has been written especially for this series and is a contribution to historical knowledge as well as a demonstration in the writing of history based on sources included in this work.

American workers have been described as a conservative labor force that has accepted capitalism, rejected class identification, and generally looked to collective bargaining, rather than political action, as the means to better their condition. But why were these workers willing to accept such a system?

In this study, Irwin Yellowitz describes workers' commitment to the Protestant Ethic--the traditional American belief that hard work and good habits will result in the individual moving from wage-earner to entrepreneur. Even when such movement was rare, as it was in the decades under consideration, the belief in mobility persisted. The beliefs of an earlier era continued even when the realities of the world no longer supported them.

But American workers reacted in different ways to new conditions and traditional beliefs. Although most native-born workers continued to accept these beliefs, some recognized the contradiction between beliefs and reality and sought to reconcile the two. Among immigrant . . .

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