Essay on American Industrialization

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The era of the Industrial Revolution is deeply rooted in Britain after its major success being the mechanization in the production of cotton cloth. From this initial seed, the technologies would later spread across the North Atlantic and finally reach the United States of America. Although the U.S had an abundance of land for agricultural production, the country had a scarcity of workforce for labor activities in this new world order. In the era between 1865 and 1930, American society underwent both economic and social changes in what is popularly known as the Gilded Age. As a result, this essay will analyze the impact of industrialization on American society, and the challenges faced by the various groups of individuals in the quest to industrialize the U.S.

Impact of Industrialization on Farmers, Wageworkers and Non-Whites

First and most importantly, agriculture is the cornerstone of any nation that aspires to be food sufficient and have a healthy working population. Industrialization in the agricultural sector encompasses a shift from subsistence farming to more commercialized crop and animal production. One of the significant changes of the Industrial Revolution was the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad completed in 1869 by Cornelius Vanderbilt (Tababayan, 2013). Completion of the railroad enabled businesspersons like Vanderbilt to transport massive amounts of food crops across American states via the railway tracks. However, this was a significant loss to the small subsistence farmers because they could not scale up their production to meet the demand for crop production (Tababayan, 3). Besides, it was untenable for small-scale farmers to continue competing with other commercialized farms that were efficient and conducting large-scale crop and animal production. Meanwhile, this was the genesis of farmers moving into cities in search of a better life for their families. Consequently, in 1874 there was rapid urbanization in the U.S; however, most of this urban population was unemployed and living in deplorable conditions.

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Secondly, the labor force is a critical component of the economic output growth of every nation. During the Industrial Revolution, unskilled and semi-skilled workers were paid either on an hourly basis or via the piecemeal system. Conversely, the highly skilled laborers were paid depending on the quality of the product produced. Critics argue that for the employer to maximize profits and reduce the costs of production, cutting of wages paid to laborers was vital. For instance, through the Iron Law of wages, employers held the view that workers ought to be paid according to the forces of demand and supply (Schuman 6). This economic principle means that employers can pay low wages as long as the employees kept accepting these reduced earnings. Moreover, since there was a surplus of labor during modern times, this automatically triggered low wages across the American wageworkers. As such, employers threatened dissatisfied workers that quitting work due to low pay would only result in replacement by another capable employee.

Thirdly, along with farmers and wageworkers, the native Americans have been disproportionately affected by the industrialization in the U.S. Notably, with the expansion of the railroad into other American cities, members of the dominant group increasingly became a significant threat to the minority population. According to Jeff (747), there were substantial massacres involving women and children, particularly from the American Indian tribes as the railway was expanding westwards. For instance, the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, combined with the Sioux Wars of 1876, depicts the cruelty of the colonial whites (Tababayan, 4). Further, during this period, there was increased women and child labor as another sure method of sustaining low wages. For example, most Indian working-class families were living from hand to mouth, and any supplement in income was much welcomed. As such, many employers resulted in hiring more women that are Indian and children because it was cheaper than employing qualified adult men from the same community were.

Mobilization Against the Industrial Elite

Next, America is a country built by the immigrant population. Historically, immigrants started in 1600 with pioneers European and British settlers occupying the eastern seaboard of the U.S. Likewise, the importation of Africans to work as slaves as on the rise during this period as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics posits that children as young as eight years old were a standard feature, primarily working for the manufacturing sector in the U.S (Schuman 6). Further, manufacturers being the biggest beneficiaries of child labor argued that by eliminating child labor they would sink into bankruptcy. However, in 1836, a trades union engineered a raft of measures, including setting the minimum age for a factory worker to be set at 14 years. Subsequently, in 1872 through the Prohibition Party in its manifesto became the first political organization prohibiting child labor in the industrial sector of the economy (Schuman, 10). Over the years, reformers continued in their quest to abolish child labor. In 1916, the then U.S President Woodrow Wilson, through Congress, enacted the Keating-Owen Act regulating the employees aged between 14 and 16 from participating in interstate commercial activities (Schuman 36). Eventually, in 1936 with the signing of the Public Contracts Act into law, child labor was reduced significantly, although not completely. Under this new law, the minimum age for employing males was set at 16 years while that of girls at 18 years.

Similarly, during the Industrial Revolution in America, workers toiled for long hours, under unsafe working conditions only to earn the minimum wage. For instance, a typical worker labored for approximately 10 to 12 hours for six days a week while those in the steel industry worked for the entire week. This imbalance of power between the wageworkers and the wealthy employers gave birth to the first labor movements in the U.S. Supporters believe that movements like National Labor Union were the first organizations to defend groups of wageworkers in the printing and shoemaking industries. Through this union, union representatives advocated for a reduction in mechanization that was replacing master cobblers with shoe manufacturing machines that were faster. In addition, the struggle to make 8 hours as the mandatory working hours was not easy. In 1886, the 1st of May, for instance, labor unions organized for a nationwide strike demanding for eight-hour work shifts from the traditional ten-hour workdays in the U.S. In response, organized wageworkers heeded to the call. In the city of Chicago, law enforcement officers got into an altercation with the protestors. Because of the fight between demonstrators and police officers, both sides lost innocent lives. As such, the backlash from the striking workers opened the avenue for the shorter working hours that most Americans are enjoying today.

Additionally, the industrialization process in America encompassed the scramble for natural resources. Forced eviction of Indian tribes from their tribal land was ratified under the Indian Removal Act of 1830 (Byrne, 101). Supporters of the Act posit that Indian communities were blocking industrial progress, and their land tenures had to end henceforth. By 1840 over 400 million acres of Indian ancestral land were bought for 704 cents per acre (Byrne 102). In retaliation, during the Red River War of 1890, fierce fighting pitting the U.S army against the Indian ghost dancers led to 150 Indians being slaughtered in the massacre. Famously recalled at the Wounded Knee Massacre, the battle marked the last conflict between Indians versus the U.S army. Ultimately, Byrne (103), argues that the American government, through the Indian Reorganizing Act of 1934, gave a lease of life when allotment and assimilation of land came to an abrupt end. The Act empowered the newly constituted tribal councils as the custodians responsible for negotiating government commitments with members of the American Indian community.

Conclusion

Presently, most American citizens do not appreciate the scuffles that their ancestors underwent for them to enjoy their current liberties. For instance, minimum wages, eight-hour workdays, and overtime are a result of the spirited fights of union movements. Similarly, the abolishment of child labor is courtesy of the progressive movements like the Prohibition Party that paved the way for laws restricting child slavery. Although industrialization has made America the biggest democracy in the developed world, the sweat, blood, and sacrifices of the men and women who worked to revolutionize the archaic laws should never be forgotten. Perhaps, these lessons should serve as a wakeup call as America prepares to enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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