Public opinion varied about the labor movement, often influenced by how striking workers were presented in the press, but the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, one of the deadliest industrial accidents in U.S. history, was another major turning point in gaining public sympathy for the working conditions of laborers. As workers slowly gained advances in wages and other areas, race and gender barriers also began to fall, and child labor laws eventually brought about the end of America’s tragic history of children in the workforce.
No discussion of workers’ rights would be complete without the history of the labor unions, from the earliest trade unions created in the late 1700s to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and beyond. Public opinion on unions was also complicated, especially in the era of organized crime involvement in the Teamsters. Robber barons and antitrust laws, the Great Depression, the farm labor movement, right-to-work laws, professional sporting strikes, the assembly line and robots, and our new virtual work world are some of the topics that round out the discussion. A special feature of this volume is a “State of Labor” sidebar that tracks basic earnings and cost of living for workers, grounding the historical analysis with a real world glimpse into what it took to earn a living at different points in American history. Although significant improvements have been made in workplace safety and other areas, wage inequality is still very much a problem in the 2020s, with most Americans unable to keep up with inflation or to build equity.
The chapters are as follows: