The Labor Movement and its Radicalization
The American working class responded to the threatening influences of urbanization and industrialization by organizing unions. Through unions, members of the working class came together in a national movement to demand stable wages, shorter work days and safer work conditions. Read Act I: Subterranean Fire in the Special Presentation, The Dramas of Haymarket, and search on strike to learn more about workers' efforts in the U.S. and abroad to create change through protests and demonstrations that often ended in violence.
- What were labor activists' goals? How did they attempt to achieve them?
- What kinds of opposition did union organizations and labor activists face and why?
- Why do you think that labor demonstrations so often ended in violence?
Within the labor movement, opinions differed about how best to improve the condition of the working class. Socialists, communists, and anarchists took the most radical approaches to labor reform, calling for the destruction of the entire capitalist system. Act I: Subterranean Fire discusses the history, principles, and practices of these groups.
- What distinguished radical from non-radical labor groups?
- What was the common ground among radical groups such as socialists, communists, and anarchists?
- What ideas and methods characterized the anarchists?
- On what points did anarchists disagree with other radicals?
- What factors contributed to some laborers' support for anarchy and communism in the 1880s?
- Why was the labor movement popularly portrayed as un-American?
Use the Subject Index heading, Clippings, to browse articles that were published in Chicago's anarchist and socialist newspapers, The Alarm and Arbeiter-Zeitung, and that reflect the principles and practices of anarchism. For example, "Anarchy vs. Government," provides a definition of anarchy. The Pittsburgh Manifesto, issued by the Pittsburgh Congress of the International Working People's Association on Oct. 16, 1883, and published in The Alarm the following month, is an appeal to workingmen to rebel against the capitalist system.
"Our present society is founded on the expoliation of the propertyless classes by the propertied. This expoliation is such that the propertied (capitalists) buy the working force body and soul of the propertyless, for the price of the mere costs of existence (wages) and take for themselves, i. e., steal, the amount of new values (products) which exceeds this price, whereby wages are made to represent the necessities instead of the earnings of the wage-laborer. . . .The increasing eradication of working forces from the productive process annually increases the percentage of the propertyless population, which becomes pauperized and is driven to "crime", vagabondage, prostitution suicide, starvation, and general depravity. This system is unjust, insane and murderous. It is therefore necessary to totally destroy it with and by all means, and with the greatest energy on the part of every one who suffers by it and who does not want to be made culpable for its continued existence by his inactivity."
- How does the Alarm article define anarchy and government?
- What argument does this article make for anarchy and against government?
- Why do you think that The Alarm's November 1, 1884 article introduces the Pittsburgh Manifesto by invoking Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence?
- What comparison is this introduction suggesting? Do you think that it is a sound comparison? Why or why not?
- To what does the Pittsburgh Manifesto attribute sinking wages?
- What accusations does the Pittsburgh Manifesto make against the propertied class?
- According to the Pittsburgh Manifesto, what must be done to relieve the working class and how should it be accomplished?