Labor and Farmer Parties in the United States, 1828-1928

By Nathan Fine | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE UNITED FRONT OF 1886

THE trade union and labor political movement of any country at any given time reflects the stage of its economic development. In the United States, in the late twenties, when the merchant-capitalist began putting pressure upon the petty employer to sweat his journeymen, the workmen organized trade unions and central bodies and after the ballot was placed in their hands, took the plunge into independent politics. The movement was necessarily local in character and the efforts of the workers were largely directed against social abuses. The market area was limited, economic stratification had only begun, and a permanent workingmen's party was impossible. The trade unions were also mushroom affairs and passed out of existence after the panic of 1837. In the sixties and seventies national trade unions arose and the first attempt at a national trade union federation was made. State labor parties now took the field, and a national labor reform party appeared. The extension of the railroad and the development of machine production had created a national market, the workers in one locality were subject to competition by journeymen from the outside and by the machine, and they were growing weaker in bargaining power as against the corporation. The trade unionists, therefore, had to unite nationally. But the individualistic tradition of the American people, the presence of free land, and the long business depressions, turned the attention of the wage earners to financial reforms which they hoped would result in starting the wheels of industry, to a demand for an eight-hour law in order to give them the benefits of mass production, and

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