Freedom: A History of US.
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Webisode 9: Working for Freedom
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Cornelius Vanderbilt
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But workers began to demand their own power. The unions grew. Many Americans—especially the new immigrants—learned about democracy in the unions. However, many distrusted them, especially because some unions were run by socialists, who wanted the government to take over businesses like railroads, electrical power, and telephones. Some were led by anarchists, who didn't believe in any government. Some unions did abuse power, with poorly planned strikes that hurt workers more than owners. But some businessmen just wanted capitalism without regulations. And some got angry at the idea of workers having any rights or power. Samuel Gompers See It Now - Samuel Gompers was an early labor leader. Hear It Now - Samuel Gompers "I am not one to generally encourage strikes. But show me the country in which there are no strikes," he said, "and I will show you that country in which there is no liberty."

In 1884, the year his father died, Cyrus McCormick, Jr., announced that he was cutting workers' pay in order to decrease corporate expenses. That was the year his company made a seventy-one percent profit. A few months later the workers struck. McCormick hired strikebreakers, called "scabs," to take their places. Striking men attacked the scabs. McCormick hired guards, but a crowd captured and burned their rifles. McCormick agreed to go back to the old pay scale. His mother wrote her daughter about it: Hear It Now - McCormick's Mother "Hatred and fierce passion have been aroused; and an injury has resulted to our good name. It ended by our conceding the terms demanded."

Young Cyrus wasn't finished. The next year he installed expensive machinery, designed to eliminate the most troublesome workers. But the machines broke down; they cost more than the workers had. McCormick didn't care; he thought he had broken the union. But the union wasn't finished. They demanded higher pay and better conditions. Now McCormick closed the plant and shut out the unionists. He bribed the mayor and police. He hired scabs and was so desperate for workers that he agreed to let them work an eight-hour day, which was what the strike was all about. The strikers were furious. One day some strikers attacked some scabs. Police started shooting. Two men were killed and several wounded. The next day a mass meeting was called in Chicago's Haymarket Square to protest the shootings. Critics claimed it was a gathering of anarchists. But journalist August Spies was there. "There was not a syllable said about anarchism at the Haymarket meeting," he said. "The popular theme of reducing the hours of toil was discussed." Check The Source - An Auto-Biographical Sketch: By August Spies

The meeting was just about over when 180 policemen marched into the square and demanded that the meeting be ended. Then something unexpected happened. A bomb was thrown at the police. No one ever discovered who threw it. One policeman was killed, and six others died later of their wounds See It Now - The Haymarket Riot. Suddenly police began firing. Four civilians died Check The Source - "The Haymarket Riot": An Eyewitness Account by Barton Simpson. Many were wounded "Anarchists Were Flying In Every Direction": A Report by the Chicago Department of Police. The nation was outraged. Most people were angry at the strikers. They seemed to believe that they were all socialists and anarchists. Eight men were charged with conspiracy and murder. Four of those men weren't even part of the uprising—they had left Haymarket Square before the bomb was thrown. But all eight were found guilty "An Appeal to the People of America": By Albert Parsons. One of the convicted was August Spies, who made this comment: Hear It Now - August Spies "Let the world know that in the state of Illinois, eight men were sentenced to death because they believed in a better future; because they had not lost their faith in the ultimate victory of liberty!" "The Doomed Victim": Albert Parsons's Last Words to his Wife

The nation was afraid of foreigners and socialists and anarchists. No one wanted to hear the truth. Four of the eight men convicted were hanged, including August Spies. One was sentenced to fifteen years in jail "I Am Sorry Not To Be Hung": Oscar Neebe and the Haymarket Affair. Two had death sentences commuted to life in prison. One committed suicide in prison See It Now - August Spies. At the McCormick factory, the workers returned to a ten-hour day.

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Did You Know?
By 1920, half of all Americans lived in cities or towns. By then the U.S. was the leading industrial nation in the world, with nine million factory workers.

Did you know that Freedom is adapted from the award-winning Oxford University Press multi-volume book series, A History of US by Joy Hakim?

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