This new volume starts with a detailed Introduction that discusses key points and controversies in the history of worker’s rights and wages in the United States. This is followed by a comprehensive Timeline of significant events.
The 28 chapters that follow trace the struggles of the American work force from early workers’ strikes in the colonies and the famous Boston Tea Party to recent attempts by Amazon employees to unionize. Improvements in the lives of workers were slow in coming, and Americans in the modern workforce owe such standard features as the 5-day workweek and the 8-hour workday to the protests of workers in the nation’s past. The battles between company ownership and the workforce often turned violent, and this volume explores in detail the mining wars and the Haymarket Affair, one of the most influential moments in labor history. 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:
Each chapter starts with a brief Introduction, List of Topics Covered, and the source document discussed in the chapter. The body of the text discusses the document from its historical context to its relationship to contemporary public opinion. Most documents are reprinted in their entirety and clearly distinguished by a shaded title bar. In addition to helpful subtitles, photos and other images enhance the text, and sidebars provide an often lighter perspective on the time period being discussed. Pull quotes and other visual elements increase accessibility. Each chapter ends with a brief Conclusion, thoughtful Discussion Questions, and a list of Works Used.
The concluding chapter concisely summarizes the long and difficult struggle to define the boundaries of free speech. It is followed by the Historical Snapshots section—a broad, bulleted overview of political, social, and cultural developments from 1880 to 2022 that help provide context and understanding of the political and social climate of the broad timeframe of the work.
This exciting series offers a wide range of insights into long-standing issues that Americans are most concerned about, and those that have encouraged vigorous debate among politicians and citizens at large. Using carefully chosen original documents that cover a wide time span, Opinions Throughout History weaves a thoughtful and easy-to-understand analysis of how public opinion is formed and evolves, starting the discussion at an historical, seminal moment, and ending with where we stand today. This comprehensive, timely volume is a must for large public libraries, university libraries and social science departments, along with high school libraries.
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