Learn about the workers’ movement that arose in the United States during the Industrial Revolution.
- Students will be able to describe the adverse working conditions in factories during the Industrial Revolution.
- Students will be able to explain why labor unions were created.
- Students will understand what the AFL is and why it was created.
- Students will be able to explain what a strike is.
- Students will be able to identify the labor organizers Samuel Gompers and Mother Jones.
- Students will be able to describe some of Mother Jones’ activities.
4th Grade – 5th Grade – 6th Grade
- Read lesson or have students read it silently.
- Have students answer the questions on the worksheet.
- Discuss answers to questions.
As the Industrial Revolution progressed in the late 1800s, more and more Americans went to work in factories. People who worked in factories soon found that it was different from working on a small farm or in a small workshop. In factories, people had to work fast to keep up with machines, sometimes for 16 hours a day. Working conditions in factories were often uncomfortable and dangerous and wages were too low for workers to support their families alone. This meant that both parents had to work.
Children often had to leave school and go to work as well. A boy might work in a coal mine picking rocks out of coal and be paid only 50 cents a week. Many boys suffered crushed or broken fingers working in coal mines. Boys and girls as young as 6 years old also worked in textile mills. Like other factory workers, they worked long hours for little pay.
By the late 1800s, factory workers began to fight for better working conditions. They created labor unions in which workers joined together to ensure that employers treat them well. If the employer did not agree with the union, the workers would go on strike – refuse to work – until an agreement could be reached. At first, each group of workers had its own union. For example, there was a union of carpenters, a union of plumbers and a union of textile workers. Then in 1886, the leaders of several unions joined together and created the American Federation of Labor, or AFL with a cigar-maker named Samuel Gompers as president.