THE course of the workingman's struggle for higher wages and better working conditions in New Jersey has followed generally the pattern of that struggle throughout the country. Periods of prosperity usually brought militant, stubbornly fought strikes, while depression frequently retarded the growth of unionism and the advance toward more equitable social and economic adjustments. The decline in union membership during the boom years 1923-1929 was an exception to this general pattern; and, in the opposite direction, the less prosperous years 1933-1938 have brought progressive labor legislation and increase in union membership, though largely through the action of forces and leadership Nation-wide in influence. The State has seldom been a leader in trade union activities, but it has served, in many cases, as something of a proving ground for trade union theories. On the whole, labor has traveled a rough road, for local and State governments have been consistently conservative.
The lodging of mass production industries such as steel, textiles, oil, chemicals, and electrical supplies in the northeastern section of the State made New Jersey for some time an open-shop stronghold. On the other hand, the large number of cities with more than 25,000 population provided fertile territory for craft unions. Over the years, the embattled textile workers of Paterson and Passaic have become the State's symbol of resistance to exploitation.
Throughout the Colonial period rigid stratification of classes in both agriculture and industry prevailed. Industrially the old guild system of master, journeyman, and apprentice without actual guild organization was firmly entrenched, and in agriculture, slaves and indentured servants formed the main classes of laborers. For every slave imported each settler received 175 acres of land, and in 1737 slaves comprised 8.4 percent of the population. Slave riots were sufficiently violent and frequent to cause a citizen in 1772 to urge parliament to pass a law "obliging owners of the slaves to send them all back to Africa at their own expense." The most serious insurrections occurred probably in connection with other political events, as at Raritan in 1734, at Hackensack in 1741, and, some years later, at