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A History of Trade Unionism in the United States

Four of the cases were decided against the journeymen


Altogether

six criminal conspiracy cases are recorded against the shoemakers from 1806 to 1815. One occurred in Philadelphia in 1806; one in New York in 1809; two in Baltimore in 1809; and two in Pittsburgh, the first in 1814 and the other in 1815. Each case was tried before a jury which was judge both of law and fact. Four of the cases were decided against the journeymen. In one of the Baltimore cases judgment was rendered in favor of the journeymen. The Pittsburgh case of 1815 was compromised, the shoemakers paying the costs and returning to work at the old wages. The outcome in the other cases is not definitely known. It was brought out in the testimony that the masters financed, in part at least, the New York and Pittsburgh prosecutions.

Effective as the convictions in court for conspiracy may have been in checking the early trade societies, of much greater consequence was the industrial depression which set in after the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars. The lifting of the Embargo enabled the foreign traders and manufacturers to dump their products upon the American market. The incipient American industries were in no position to withstand this destructive competition. Conditions were made worse by past over investment and by the collapse of currency inflation.

Trade unionism for the time being had to come to an end. The effect on the journeymen's societies was paralyzing. Only those survived which turned to mutual

insurance. Several of the printers' societies had already instituted benefit features, and these now helped them considerably to maintain their organization. The shoe-makers' societies on the other hand had remained to the end purely trade-regulating organizations and went to the wall.

Depression reached its ebb in 1820. Thereafter conditions improved, giving rise to aggressive organizations of wage earners in several industries. We find strikes and permanent organizations among hatters, tailors, weavers, nailers, and cabinet makers. And for the first time we meet with organizations of factory workers--female workers.

Beginning with 1824 and running through 1825, the year which saw the culmination of a period of high prices, a number of strikes occurred in the important industrial centers. The majority were called to enforce higher wages. In Philadelphia, 2900 weavers out of about 4500 in the city were on strike. But the strike that attracted the most public attention was that of the Boston house carpenters for the ten-hour day in 1825.

The Boston journeymen carpenters chose the most strategic time for their strike. They called it in the spring of the year when there was a great demand for carpenters owing to a recent fire. Close to six hundred journeymen were involved in this struggle. The journeymen's demand for the ten-hour day drew a characteristic reply from the "gentlemen engaged in building," the customers of the master builders. They condemned the journeymen on the moral ground that an agitation for a shorter day would open "a wide door for idleness and vice"; hinted broadly at the foreign origin of the agitation; declared that all combinations intending to regulate the value of labor by abridging the working day were in a high degree unjust and injurious to the other classes in the community; announced their resolution to support the masters at the sacrifice of suspending building altogether; and bound themselves not to employ any journeyman or master who might enforce the ten-hour day. The strike failed.


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