During the time of industrialization, which took place over more than a century, the United States underwent an era following the Civil War known as Reconstruction.
During this period, which only lasted a little over a decade, numerous constitutional changes, such as the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, were made that helped American society. The United States also experienced an era of westward expansion, which paved way for construction projects like that of the transcontinental railroad, which finally connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. This era, which occurred during the Gilded Age, also corresponded with a trend that involved the large influx of immigrants from different parts of the world, such as the “new immigrants” from Eastern and Southern Europe, who sought new economic opportunities and freedom of other sorts. In regards to immigration, American industrial workers were heavily impacted by the surges of immigrants that flood into the United States. On the other hand, workers of industrial factories/plants were not as affected by the sudden emergence of labor unions as they were with immigrant assimilating into their society, but nevertheless indirectly impacted by the extremely violence such unions used to achieve their goals. Thus, to a larger extent, during the period spanning from 1865, or the end of the American Civil War, to 1900, industrial workers in the United States were extremely influenced by the sudden surge of immigrants, whose growing influence would cause native born American factory workers to fear for their the stability of their occupations.
On the other hand, the formation of labor unions during this time did not have much as of a direct impact on American industrial workers as immigration did, but it nevertheless gradually helped the working class to enjoy a somewhat better lifestyle by fighting for reforms. Workers who made their livings in American factories were extremely susceptible to the effects that were brought about by the waves of immigrants that came pouring into the United States during its time of rapid industrial development. One primary reason being is the large factory owners, who preferred unskilled immigrants over native born Americans for their willingness to take jobs with far less pay than normal.
For instance, numerous jobs that require no skills were taken by the Irish, who escaped the potato famine only to have found themselves handling extremely dangerous machinery that were common in virtually all factories (after all, there was rarely any workers’ compensation during the Gilded Age). It was invasions of immigrants such as this in the workplace that led the vast majority of Americans that worked in the factory industry to be laid off, despite their talent. The unemployment of American laborers would continue to soar with the introduction of Germans into the factory. Unlike the Irish, who often took on jobs that require no experience, the Germans came to dominate trades that involved metalworking, which further caused many American artisans/craftsmen to be put out of work as well. As immigration problems grew increasingly out of hand, workers began to show hostility toward not only the Irish and Germans, but also the Chinese, in addition to Greeks, Italians, Slovaks, etc. As a result, nativism was revived, and people began blaming immigrants for degrading American society culture with theirs and their willingness to take on jobs that only offered them extremely low wages. One prominent organization that emerged along with the revival of this anti-foreign ideology was A.
P.A. (of the American Protective Association), which, along with numerous middle and working class individuals, argued the American workers should be protected from foreign workers. American laborers would eventually become so discontent with one race, the Chinese, that they lobbied the Chinese Exclusion Act to Congress, which passed it in order to stop the waves of illegal Chinese immigration coming into the country and thus prevent them from undercutting the workers’ pay. Unlike the problem brought about by immigration, the troubles that arouse with the emergence of labor unions only affected American industrial workers to some degree. The development of labor organizations, which first began to appear during the years following the American Civil war, played a pivotal role in fighting for the wage reduction of workers in addition to better hours and improved working circumstances. These unions, which often actively campaigned for eight hours of labor, recreation and rest, did not have much as a growing influence over the American society as immigrants did primarily due to their unsuccessful attempts at appealing to the public through numerous amounts of strikes. For instance, in the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, local militia had to be sent in to quell the violence and break up the protest, which ultimately resulted in the deaths of dozens of strikers.
Another example would be the riot that occured at Haymarket Square (1886), in which a bomb detonated in the crowd of strikers, causing many to be injured. It was strikes like these that sparked extremely negative reactions from the American factory workers, who held labor activists accountable for what was initially caused by the overpopulation of immigrants. Not all labor unions were not impactful, however. Though they targeted different portions of the American society and were not immediately successful in their attempts at winning the public’s and thus the American industrial workers’ favor, labor unions were still impactful enough to encourage numerous American industrial workers to become more publicly active when it came to their working conditions. One such union was the Knights of Labor, which campaigned not only for the economic and political independence of workers, but also advocated for health/safety codes and fought for the eight hour day. Another noteworthy union would be the American Federation of Labor, which primarily sought three reforms: higher wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions. In the end, between the years 1865 and 1900, the vast majority of American industrial workers were influenced largely by immigrants, who began to comprise virtually most of America’s workforce during the time of rapid industrial development, thus threatening the stability of the workers’ occupations.
The workers were less affected, however, by the labor unions, the numerous strikes of which they made were too violent them to successfully convince workers to join their movement. These trends can be observed in the decades preceding the American Industrial Revolution, during which slaves, rather than immigrants, began to dominate the Southern workforce. This was before the transatlantic slave trade, which was responsible for forced migration of millions of African American, was abolished, and during the time when blacks had far fewer opportunities than the immigrants, who could at least go into a profession of their choosing. Even though they had considerably less freedom compared to immigrants, enslaved African Americans were similar to them in that they both displaced numerous native-born Americans from their working positions as the less expensive and more widely available alternative.