What is the Labor Movement?
In the past, skilled workers, such as metalworkers, were called masters. Masters worked alongside their counterparts, creating apprenticeships for those who wanted to learn a skilled trade. These apprentices would eventually become craftsmen themselves and the cycle would repeat itself. With the advent of new technology and the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century, it was now easy to mass produce products with unskilled laborers. These unskilled laborers could be paid a low wage because they could be easily replaced. This created a clear division of power between masters who had all the money and authority and their unskilled workers.
Furthermore, there were no laws protecting workers. In fact, some laws actually prevented unions from forming and even went so far as to allow companies to hire thugs to bully employees so they wouldn’t unionize. Under these conditions, workers were not only underpaid, but they would work long hours under hazardous conditions. These working conditions lasted many years until workers started uniting. Initially their struggles were met with failure due to mass firings and a lack of government support, but by the mid-1880s, workers were successful in establishing a long-standing organization: The American Federation of Labor (AFL).