Labor v. Capital

Labor v. Capital




Labor v. Capital

The United States of America has been defined by a rich history that scales back to the days before the nation attained independence. Formed exclusively in 1776 after the exclusion of the British colonialists during the American Revolutionary War, America emerged as a state that was capable of amassing its own wealth due to efforts of colonists present in the Union and Confederate states. However, after the occurrence of the country’s independence, the state plunged in another struggle, specifically the Civil War, between the Union and the Confederacy concerning the issue of slavery, which had become prevalent after the country’s autonomy from the British. The aftermath of the conflict between the states in the North and the South created significant social problems that were ironically coupled with a considerable growth in the American industry. One particular aspect that significantly paints a picture of this condition involves the disparity evident among citizens, especially in respect to wealth (financial status) and labor. The Gilded Age was an expression of the divide that existed between the owners of production who clearly benefited from the country’s predisposition towards rapid industrialization and the workers who were forced to earn wages to evade poverty as well as other affective social issues.

In order to gain an understanding of the blurry relationship that exists between labor and capital in present-day America, it is imperative to look at the nation’s past, particularly in respect to the effects of the Gilded Age. Even though the industry was evident before the occurrence of the Civil War, most Americans were dependent on agriculture as signified by the South’s dependence on plantations before the aforementioned event. After the struggle, businesses that had started as small schemes emerged into large enterprises. By the conclusion of the respective century, a limited number of powerful and influential persons dominated the American economy. In fact, the increasing populations of such individuals marked a considerable shift in the ways that Americans applied to create wealth. Hence, by the 1900s, a significant quantity of the country’s population worked under an employer, which was a rather different process since initially many Americans, fended for themselves. Additionally, the growth of America’s economy was significant due to the development of new technologies as well as new approaches aimed at the organization of business further increasing the divide between employers and workers. At this point, intense competition drove employers that were incapable of exploiting the needs of the masses were led to either acquisition by successful industrialists or bankruptcy.

While the economy continued to grow at a considerable rate as identified by the successes of industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie, the prosperity evidenced above was not experienced by all civilians. Among the substantial wealth of the new economically privileged persons lay massive poverty. There was an unequal distribution of the respective wealth, which succeeded in positioning most Americans within a setting of extreme destitution[1]. Because of this disparity, it was imperative to ask questions centered on understanding the factors responsible for creating such a situation despite the thriving success of the American economy. Undeniably, the main cause of this significant divide between the wealthy and the poor involved the insufficient role assumed by the leadership regarding political responsibility. Rather than allow citizens to exercise natural privileges such as the right to land, leaders within the government deviated towards pro-business hence acting on the demands of business magnates who focused solely on the creation of wealth rather than the maintenance of the majority’s welfare[2]. Nevertheless, the disparity that existed at the time only fuelled a predisposition by most American workers towards the expression of the effects that this form of inequality imposed in their lives as identified by the inability of employees to access resources such as land, which were mostly possessed by owners of production.

The inclination towards unionization illustrated an expression of dissatisfaction with American employers. Even though the government was aware of the increasing income divide between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, corruption was considerably rife especially within the confines of Congress, which was mostly responsible for the establishment of laws that exposed workers and laborers to economic disadvantages. For instance, the legislative entities of various states that produced coal required employers to reimburse the salaries of their laborers in legal American currency as well as end payment of wages in terms of merchandise[3]. In addition, the accumulation of wealth was seen as an ethical measure that was necessary for bridging the gap between the poor and the wealthy via philanthropic approaches[4]. Such actions solely resulted in increasing the hardship suffered by most laborers at the time further stressing the need for unionization of workers in order to challenge the constitutionality of the measures implemented by most employers at the disadvantage of the affected. However, efforts aimed at unionization were significantly dismissed by employers who applied questionable tactics that repressed such efforts. The denial of natural rights such as the freedom of expression drove workers to the application of violent means further giving rise to organized labor.


Carnegie, Andrew. “The Gospel of Wealth.” in Give Me Liberty! edited by Eric Foner, 87-89. New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2010.

George, Henry. “Progress and Poverty (1879).” In Give Me Liberty! edited by Eric Foner, 42-45. New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2010.

Mitchell, John. “The Workingman’s Conception of Industrial Liberty (1910).” In Give Me Liberty! Edited by Eric Foner, 89-93. New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2010.

[1] Henry George, “Progress and Poverty (1879),” In Give Me Liberty! Ed. Eric Foner (New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2010), 43.

[2] Henry George, “Progress and Poverty (1879),” In Give Me Liberty! ed. Eric Foner (New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2010), 43.

[3] John Mitchell, “The Workingman’s Conception of Industrial Liberty (1910),” In Give Me Liberty! Ed. Eric Foner (New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2010), 91.

[4] Carnegie, Andrew, “The Gospel of Wealth,” In Give Me Liberty! Ed. Eric Foner (New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2010), 89.

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