America’s Labor and Foreign Policy Problems

Between 1880 and 1990, several problems have caused America to become the nation that it is today. One of our biggest problems was the battle between labor and capital, between 1880 and 1920 in particular. This long, drawn-out struggle led to several standoffs and skirmishes between workers and corporations. In the other half of this time period, between 1920 and 1990, I believe the defining conflict of America was our foreign policy. After World War I, America became a world superpower, causing their foreign policy positions too change. This led to many good things for the country, but it caused several problems for us as well.

Between 1880 and 1920 there were endless conflicts between different workers, employers, and businesses. Some of the fundamental causes for these problems were derived from concepts such as Industrial Capitalism and Social Darwinism. Industrial Capitalism describes how the nation’s economy changed industries. The changes were tied to advances in technology at the time, such as trains, telegraphs, and new types of machinery. During thhis period the growth of major factories grew, which led to a boom in the concept of wage labor. There was also Social Darwinism, which stated that people who were successful in society got that way because they were most fi

it, and people who were poor were like that because of their own personal problems. This concept was very bad for workers, especially unskilled lower class workers, because it gave the upper class an excuse for abusing their positions and taking advantage of the poor.

In order to try and help themselves, many workers decided to try and create labor organizations to band themselves together in an effective manner. Several groups created trade unions that consisted of specific types of workers, which would negotiate with their bosses. Some workers joined unions because of solidarity, they wanted everyone to ban together. An example of this was the Knights of Labor. They included skilled and unskilled workers, different races (except the Chinese), and diifferent trades. One of their biggest issues was the 8 hour workday. However, their efforts crashed at Haymarket Square in Chicago. They were protesting for the 8 hour workday in the square, and police came and put down the protest with violence. The next day they came back to protest the police’s violence, and somehow a bomb went off. Shots were fired and one person from each side was killed along with many other injured. The leaders of the union were charged an
nd convicted without any evidence, and the union was dismantled. This was a bad sign for unions, because it showed that the police and the government would side against the unions, and that they would be willing to use force to get their way.

Other workers joined unions for self protection. An example of this was the American Federation of Labor. They were more exclusive than the Knights of Labor. The AFL was for skilled workers who wanted to protect their privileges from unskilled workers. This was also known as a craft union tradition. However, like the Knights of Labor, the AFL met its demise at Homestead in Pittsburgh. Andrew Carnegie, the owner of the steel mill there was abusing his workers, and the workers started a strike. The strike even grew to other Carnegie mills. Nevertheless, the government gave no help to the union, and Carnegie hired scabs and private police to end the strike. The strikers eventually gave up, and the union was destroyed.

Other unions that went through similar situations were the American Railway Union, the Patrons of Husbandry, and the Farmer’s Alliance. The ARU was created by the Pullman workers, who went on strike because their wages were cu
ut but their rent was kept the same (their homes were owned by their Pullman). The strike went national to Pullman cars across the country. However, the government ordered troops to go in and control the situation, once again going against the workers. Thirty-four people ended up dying during the strike. The Patrons of Husbandry and Farmer’s Alliance were both created by farmers who were being taken advantage of by railroads and manufacturers. They were against many of the concepts of capitalism. These groups formed what was known as the Populist Party in the political environment. But once again, like the previous unions, they eventually were dismantled.

Fortunately, later on in this era progressivism and many other concepts began to help workers. Scientific management made workplaces more efficient. Taylorism also put this into effect. Welfare Capitalism was a model of workplaces that made workers happier by making the work environment more comfortable. Lunchrooms, ventilation systems, showers, clubs, outings, and entertainment were given to workers. They also created pension and workers compensation. The progressivists were among other things, against industrial capitalism and big businesses. They believed that businesses had unchecked personal freedom and were ignorant to the people’s needs. The progressivists wanted go
overnment to limit certain aspects of business, increase education to help end ignorance, and increase workers’ safety. But, they weren’t too radical; they wanted to make changes without ruining industries. The era was ended with World War I, which created thousands of jobs and boosted the economy.

After winning World War I, America became more of a superpower in the world. The problems between labor and capital weren’t completely over with, but it was no longer the problem that it used to be. Between 1920 and 1990, America had to redirect its attention toward foreign policy conflicts. This really began to become an issue after the Great Depression ended, when World War II began. At first America wished to stay out of the conflicts spreading across Europe. But as a country, and especially in the government, we tended to support the Allies through the concept of Lend-Lease. This allowed us to unofficially supply the Allied nations. The Axis powers were fascist, and against liberal capitalism. This was a threat to the United States, because they were also anti-democracy and against civil liberties. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was forced to enter World War II completely. World War II ended up being one of the deadliest wars in the history of the world. 323,000 Americans and 40,000,000 Europeans were killed, along with millions of others wounded. Europe had been destroyed. After the Yalta Conference, the UN Security Council, IMF, and World Bank were created. America became the uncontested world superpower.

Being the world’s top superpower was both an opportunity and an obligation for America. It was an opportunity for businesses to grow worldwide, and for democracy to spread. There was also the obligation of helping Europe get back on its feet. However, soon after World War II, a rivalry began between the United States and the Soviet Union. This was what caused the Cold War. The Soviets wanted to contend with America as the world’s superpower. They also wanted to spread communism as much as they could, to help gain allies against the United States. America wanted to uphold a policy of containment, in which we would not attack communist nations, but we would not allow communism to grow (to the best of our ability).

The concept of containment caused the American military to intervene in nations across the globe. There were different skirmishes throughout Latin America and Africa. The biggest conflicts were in Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. The Korean War often gets overlooked due to the size of the Vietnam War, but the two were pretty similar. Thousands of Americans were sent overseas to defend countries from communists. These conflicts, especially Vietnam, were controversial because going into them we did not have a clear cut goal and a clear cut plan to achieve that goal. We pretty much just went in to stop communism. Each conflict ended in somewhat of a stalemate, without any real winners. In Cuba, there was the infamous Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion. Russia had been supplying Cuba with missiles that could strike America. Eventually the missiles were removed, but tensions remain between the two countries to this day.

In the late 1970’s and 1980’s, America’s foreign policy focus began to shift towards rising tensions in the Middle East. This began with the oil crisis which OPEC began to take advantage of markets and skyrocketed prices. This was due to the ongoing problem between Israel and the Arab nations. OPEC put an embargo on their oil, and there wasn’t enough oil to go around. This hurt the American economy, and sent many people into a panic. At the time, America was attempting to have a policy of “Détente,” which we would limit our involvement in containment. We were going to pull out of Vietnam, recognize China as a nation, and limit nuclear weapons. But the rise of Islamic Fundamentalist movements and revolutions in the Middle East caused problems for America. There were many skirmishes in the Middles East between the communists and the Islamic Fundamentalists. The Russians supported the communists, so America decided to support the Islamic Fundamentalists, even though they were known to be anti-American. This ended up being very embarrassing for America because later on the Islamic Fundamentalists used the weapons we gave them against us. At one point the Ayatollah Khomeini attacked an American embassy, and held the people inside hostage for over a year. This was tied to a later problem known as the Iran-Contra Scandal, which the US secretly and illegally traded weapons for hostages. We later gave the profits from the weapons sales to Contras fighting in Nicaragua against communism. This was very embarrassing for the US, and it put a lot of pressure on America’s foreign policy leaders.

Soon after, communism collapsed from within for unknown reasons. President Reagan claimed that it was from the toll that America took on communists throughout the Cold War. But it was also said that the people of the communist nations weren’t getting what they were promised, and they got fed up with their government. Whatever the case was, several communist governments collapsed, most importantly Russia (although some remain to this day). However there is still some tension between many of the nations involved in the Cold War (Cuba, North Korea, etc.). The worst problems remaining are the foreign policy issues that we have with the Arab Nations. There are extremely strong anti-American feelings in groups of people across the Middle East, which is a very bad problem that will remain until foreign policy with those nations improve.

As can easily be seen, the problems between labor and capital between 1880 and 1920 and America’s foreign policies between 1920 and 1990 were defining conflicts of their eras. The problems with labor were so bad that hundreds of people ended up dying throughout the strikes, as well as many others losing their jobs and getting blacklisted. Unions are common now, but they were very controversial during that time period. Between 1920 and 1990, America’s foreign affairs had a huge influence on our nation as a whole. Several conflicts and skirmishes were endured during this period, and they have shaped us into the nation that we are today. Also, many of the decisions made during this period helped us in ways, but some of them continue to plague us today. During this era, there were several other major movements in the country like the number of social changes that took place, but none of which compared to the seriousness that our foreign issues had.

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