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 to 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 this 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 fit, 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 different 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 and 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 cut 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 government 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.
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