What were the impacts of child labor?

Late in the eighteenth century, as the first textile mills were being built, one of the earliest factories employed nine children less then twelve years old. A decade later that same factory had more then 100 children whose ages ranged between four and ten, working in it.

The shocking practice of putting young boys and girls in factories was not universaly frowned upon. The nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, strongly supported child labor. He said ‘It is worthy of perticular remark that in general… children are rended useful… by manufacturing establishements… that they otherwise would be…’(Werstien 1965,40)

In a big room in this big, black shed-a room, not 20 feet square- where a broken stove red-hot, tries vainly to warm the cold air that comes in through the open window, 40 boys are picking their lives away. These little kids go to work in this cold, dreary room at 7 o’clock in the morning and work ‘till it’s too dark to see anymore. For this they get $1 TO $3 a week. Not 3 boys in this roomful could read or write. Shut in from everything that is pleasant, with no chance to learn, with no knowledge of what is going on about them, with nothing to do but work, grinding their little lives away in these dusty room, there are no more then the wire screens that separate the great lumps of coal from the small.

The disgrace of child labor spanned both factory and farm and persisited well into the 1930’s. The main reason child labor was used was because kids worked cheap. Cynical employers often asked “Why hire a man for a buck when you can hire a kid for a dime?”(Flagner 1990, 28)

It is more difficult to understand the social attitudes that permitted child labor to flourish for more then a century. Workers tended to except child labor as something they were powerless to change. Child labor went largerly unnoticed in the press.

What was the AFL?

The AFL is short for American Federation of Labor. The AFL is one of the giant labor organization. When the AFL and CIO united, with the help of each other both strongly opposed the Taft-Heartley Act and other issues. The job of the AFL is to aid workers to securing improved wages, hours and working conditions. Encourage formation of locals, state and locals central bodies, and nationals and affilation of such organizations with new federation. Secure legislation safeguarding and promoting the principle of free collective barganing. Protect and strengthen the nation’s democratic institutions. They also have to promote the cause of peace and freedom throughout the world. Pressure and maintain the integrity of each affilated union services. Safeguard the democratic character of the labor movement. Encourage workers to register and vote and exercise their full rights and responsibilities. Under the energetic and shrewd leadership of Gompers, the AFL became for about 40 years, the most dominant labor organization in the country. By 1900, it had grown to over one million members, and fourteen years later it had doubled that number. The AFL under Gompers avoided politics in the usual sense. “No party politics, be they democratic, republican, populist, socialist or any other, shall have a place in the federation.” (Cahn, 207) said Gompers. But the AFL did play an important role, under pressure from it’s members in helping win social and labor legislation, nationally and the states. Gompers believed labor gains should be won largely by collective bargaining. In March 1906 the AFL approved labor’s bill of grievances was sent to president Theodore Roosevelt. The list of grievances that confronted the working people of the era includedthe demand for passage of anti-injunction bill, restrictions on immigrations, a bill to free seamen from involuntary servitude and stronger antitrust laws.



Haymarket Square Riot”, Concise Columbia Encyclopedia. Columbia University Press; New York, 1991.

Flagler, John J. The Labor Movement In the United States. Lerner Publication Company; Minnesota, 1990.

AFL-CLO Publication, A Short History American Labor. Continental of American Labor, 1981.

“National Labor Relations Act”, Encarta Microsoft Corporation, 1994.

Werstein, Irwing. The Great Struggle. Charles Scribner’s Sons; New York, 1965.

Rayback, Joesph G. A History of American Labor. Macmillan New York, 1959.

Gordon, John Steel. “Farewell to the Taft-Hartley”. American Heritage Oct.’94, p. (18) v.45.

Gardener, Joesph L. Labor on the March. New York, 1969.

Shnapper, MB American Labor. Washington D.C., 1972.

Cahn, William. History of American Labor. New York, 1972.

Word Count: 640

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