Employee/Employer Relationships as Inherited from 16th Century England – In order to understand where worker's rights began, we must first understand the traditional employee/employer relationship and the surprising lack of legal rights granted to employees under the British legal system that dominated the early American colonies.
Indentured Servitude – A large percentage of the Europeans who came to America during the colonial period labored under a system of voluntary, and at times involuntary, slavery. European society was ordered under a paternalistic hierarchical structure where each master was the servant to a master. In order to begin the struggle for worker's rights, society first needed to develop a new understanding of freedom and equality.
Economic Transition – This section follows the development from farm manufacturing to 'putting out' work to early factory work. New forms of transportation and communication created the first market economy, allowing manufacturers to grow as they sold to expanded market territories.
Slavery/Racism – One cannot tell the story of working people without considering the men, women, and children who labored as slaves. The section will introduce the issues of racism and civil rights that will develop through the entire history of labor.
Bacon's Rebellion – Bacon's rebellion brought together African slaves and poor whites against the wealthy planter elite. The fear of this combination led to a policy of racial stratification promoted through both legislation and social propaganda.
Women's Work/Women's Rights – An introduction to the story of women's work both in the home and the workplace, which will be woven throughout the film series.
The Lowell Miracle (1836) – One of the earliest strikes in the U.S. was the Mill Girls Strike in Lowell, MA. The mills were considered a model of patriarchal factory life. The workers were provided boarding houses, expected to maintain high moral standards, and attend church services. During the turn out, it shocked the community to see women speaking in public and taking part in rebellious behavior not considered appropriate for ladies of the era. The strike was not only one of the first successful labor actions, but also an early sign of the social changes that would soon give birth to the women's suffragette movement.
Combination/Conspiracy – In the early American colonies, organized labor activities were considered to be illegal combinations or conspiracies designed to hamper free trade. This became the first legal hurdle that had to be overcome in order for workers to form labor unions.
Commonwealth vs. Hunt (1842) – In 1939, the Boston Journeymen Bookmakers Society went on strike. The leaders were charged and convicted of conspiracy. On appeal,Lemuel Shaw, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, ruled that organized labor groups were not necessarily criminal or conspiring organizations, and had the right to strike, provided violence or other illegal activities were not used.
The Civil War/Reconstruction (1861-1865) – The labor provided by millions of African Americans held in slavery was an important factor in labor supply and labor relations. This section will present an overview of the status of African American workers in the north/the effects of the Civil War on labor relations/and racism within unions after emancipation. The Civil War also accelerated the industrial revolution, paving the way for the Gilded Age.