The Industrial Worker in Pennsylvania, 1800-1840

By William A. Sullivan | Go to book overview

VII
LABOR STRIFE AMONG THE UNSKILLED WAGE EARNERS

THE POLITICAL DEMOCRACY which ushered in the Jackson Era had its repercussions in the labor movement. The skilled and the unskilled, the men and women workers, all on one occasion or another expressed their disapproval of existing conditions. Shorter hours and Sunday work, higher wages and the union shop caused many bitter conflicts between capital and labor. Provocative efforts by the entrepreneurs to lower wages, the speed up, and the introduction of new machinery often initiated a spirited resistance by the wage earners. But the disputes over hours and wages overshadowed all others in the "Age of Jackson."

Probably nowhere can a better expression of this insurgent democracy be found, than in the struggles of the factory operatives and the manual laborers to raise their status in society. In the fall of 1828, the cotton spinners of Philadelphia and its suburbs struck against a proposed reduction of twenty-five percent in their wages.2 They complained of the "avarice of their employers, who are attempting to reduce the prices of labour, although they already accumulate in the form of profits more than is obtained by the journeymen as wages."3 While the spinner could make only "from $7.50 to $8.50 per week . . . by working the full period of twelve hours," the strikers contended that, "in doing this he actually earned for the millowners, from $40 to $50 dollars per week."4 As the strike progressed, feeling between the strikers and those who persisted in working grew taut. At Norristown, a few children sneered at a scab and were taken to court and charged with assault.5 Three striking spinners at Manayunk were bound over by the Philadelphia County Court to keep the peace because it was alleged that they had threatened strike breakers.6 Despite a standout of over three months and

____________________
1
Paper read before the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Historical Association which convened at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Penna., October 1949. Printed in Pennsylvania History, 17, January 1950, pp. 23-38.
2
The Mechanic's Free Press, November 15, 1828 and April 17, 1830.
3
Ibid., December 20, 1828.
4
As cited in Commons, History of Labour, I, p. 418.
5
Mechanic's Free Press, Nov. 15, 1828.
6
Hazard's Register of Pennsylvania, III, Jan. 17, 1829, p. 39.

-145-

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The Industrial Worker in Pennsylvania, 1800-1840
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • PENNSYLVANIA HISTORICAL AND MUSEUM COMMISSION ii
  • Preface iii
  • TABLE OF CONTENTS vii
  • I - THE INDUSTRIAL SETTING 1
  • II - THE WAGE EARNERS 29
  • III - THE WAGE EARNERS -- PART II 59
  • IV - GROWTH OF TRADE UNIONS 85
  • V - LABOR ORGANIZATION DURING THE AGE OF JACKSON 99
  • VI - THE SKILLED ARTISANS AND INDUSTRIAL STRIFE 119
  • VII - LABOR STRIFE AMONG THE UNSKILLED WAGE EARNERS 145
  • VIII - LABOR AND POLITICS DURING THE JACKSON ERA 159
  • IX - THE WAGE EARNERS AND SOCIAL REFORM 209
  • Appendix A 217
  • Bibliography 235
  • Index 247
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