The Gilded Age: Post-civil War Era
The gilded age is the period between 1870 and 1900 in the United States of America. Reconstruction era, last week and industrial America can also be considered as gilded age, but majorly it was post-civil war era when America became an industrial powerhouse. Therefore, the rise of industrialization encouraged urbanization, that is the movement of people from rural area to the urban centers for industrial jobs. To a certain extent, industrialization is expected to bring equitable distribution of wealth among the rich and the poor in the society, rather industrialization brought out wide disparity between the poor and the rich in the United States of America during the gilded era.
Thus, gilded age can be regarded as era of deception, corruption, and bloodshed which were all promoted by laissez faire. This era had significant negative impact on the farmers and industrial works. Thus, various measures were adopted by the famers and industrial workers to respond to the challenges they faced during this era.
Due to high influx of labor from rural area to urban area in pursuit of industrial jobs, then supply for labor became more than the demand for labor. This could for be one of the factors responsible for ridiculously low wages, long working hours, lack safety and protection, child labor, horrible health condition of the industrial workers during the gilded age. This poor working conditions among the industrial labor led to the emergence of various labor unions and strikes. some of the labor union that were formed during this period include National Labor Union (NLU), Knight of Labor (KOL) and the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
These labor unions basically fought for better working conditions for both skilled and unskilled labor. They were concerned about reducing the working hours of labor to eight. The NLU and KOL also fought for workers cooperatives, equal right for women and African Americans. One of the key major achievement of KOL is the emergence of Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1884. It should be stressed that labor strikes during the gilded age led to killings and destruction of properties. For instance, the Great Railroad strike of 1877 led to the death of over 100 people and destruction of property worth over millions of dollars.
Farmers were also victims of the gilded age. The cost of moving their agricultural products across the country with exorbitantly or criminally high. This putted farmers at disadvantage. Apart from the fact that most of them could not afford the cost of transporting their product, there was no alternative mean of transportation during this era. The railroad monopolized the transportation industry then, then was made possible by the free market system that was in operation in the country. The economic activities were left in the hands of private individuals with little or no interventions in terms of regulation from the government. However, the farmers resented the high railroad freight rate by establishing various movement to fight against the railroad industrialist. These included the National Grange (1867) and the Farmers’ Alliance. It should be stated that the Populist Party also known as the people’s party came after the Grange and Farmers’ Alliance to improve the condition of farmers and agrarian in the 1880s. The populist party which lived for a very short period was dominated by the poor, the cotton farmers in the south, and the wheat farmers of Kansas and Nebraska.