American labor Movement

Betsy Schreier


John D. Rockefeller kicked off his career before his 20th birthday. He partnered with a neighbor, Maurice Clark, to form Clark & Rockefeller. They were commissioned merchants in grain, hay, meats, and other goods. They made a profit of $4400 their first year and $17,000 the following year. The Civil War allowed their business to rapidly expand. Grain prices went up allowing commissions to go up as will. In the early 1860’s Rockefeller left his business and went into the railroad system in Cleveland. He then went to the oil business in 1863. “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great,” John D. Rockefeller said. He founded the Standard Oil Company. He built ships that could transport the oil worldwide. Rockefeller said,” if you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.”

American Federation of Labor

The American Federation of Labor was formed when Samuel Gompers met with the leaders of other craft unions. All of the members of the A.F. of L. were skilled workers. Gompers was not afraid to call for a strike or a boycott. The AFL focused on higher wages, better working condition, and a shorter work week for its members. “The man who has his millions will want everything he can lay his hands on and then raise his voice against the poor devil who wants ten cents more a day,” Gompers said. It was the mores powerful union in the country. He maintained the support of the American government and public. He was the “unofficial leader of the labor world in America.” There were over 20,000 strikes in America in the 1800’s to the 1900’s. Gompers was the president of the union until his death in 1924. William Green took his position after his death.

George Pullman

Pullman, Illinois

George M. Pullman was the President of Pullman’s Palace Car Company. He developed a “model community” in hopes to avoid strikes and attract as many skilled workers as possible. He created his own town in order to make it possible for his product to compete in the big city markets. The town was built by Pullman employees. His shops produced the parts. In less than 4 years, 1,000 homes and public buildings were created. The properties had gas, water, sunlight, fresh air, and bathrooms. There were no saloons in Pullman upsetting the make workers. Pullman was voted world’s most perfect town in 1896. Pullman had a band, baseball team, militia, and crime fighters. Many workers couldn’t buy their home in Pullman. Official conducted inspections of the homes to make sure they maintained proper public image. Rent was high. Because of this, many workers built their own homes in neighboring towns. There male female ratio was 3:1.

Great Railroad Strike

The northern railroads were still suffering from the Financial Panic of 1873 in 1877. Salary cuts prompted strikes and violence called The Great Railroad Strike. Violent strikes broke out in Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and San Francisco. They became violent forcing the governors in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to call out their state militias. The National Guard had to help too. 40 people were killed in the violence in Pittsburgh alone, and across the country, more than 100 people died. By July, most of the trikes were over. Native-born Americans blamed the violence on foreign agitators.

State of Labor Union Today

The percentage of U.S. workers fell to 1.3% in 2012. It is the lowest percentage is 76 years, sense Franklin Roosevelt was president. Almost half of the losses were in Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan. They are all states with Republican-led governments that have led an assault on unions. Unions made strong gains in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas because of booming local economies. The lowest membership rate is in workers aged 16-24. Black workers have the highest union membership rate at 13.4 percent. Women accounted for 72% of the union membership decline in 2012.


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