Connecticut Labor Reforms 1887

01 May 2009 9:22 PM | Posted by GNHLHA

From Newsletter Volume 5, Number 1

By Jon Purmont

One fascinating dimension of Connecticut’s history in the nineteenth century is the emergence of this state as one of the leading industrial and manufacturing centers in New England.

Connecticut’s diverse economic base included production of carriages, hardware, guns, textiles, rubber products, buttons, brass and copper and lots more.

The establishment of labor unions in the aftermath of the nation’s Civil War (1861-1865), however, remains one of the state’s least discussed historical developments.  In the post-war years, Connecticut’s laboring classes endured the brunt of the excesses and abuses that employers and work place conditions imposed.  Whether it was unsanitary and unhealthy working conditions, a desire for equitable wages or demands for bi-weekly paychecks, labor’s voices reached a crescendo leading to the organization of unions in Connecticut.

The formation of the Knights of Labor in 1878 was a major milestone in Connecticut labor history.  Determined to bring an end to excesses and abuses in factories, industrial plants, and textile mills, the Knights of Labor encouraged members to become involved in politics by running for political office.

In 1885, thirty-seven members of the Knights of Labor were elected to Connecticut’s General Assembly.  They advocated and pushed for labor reform legislation that would remove injustices and inequities found in Connecticut industrial plants, mills, and factories. 

Two years later initial labor reforms gained Assembly approval bringing about path breaking changes for Connecticut workers.  These acts included: setting the maximum hours of labor to ten hours daily and sixty hours weekly for women and minors under sixteen; a Factory Inspection Act; and a Weekly Payment Act.

Make no mistake: it was just the beginning of a long journey to change and improve working conditions for laboring men and women in Connecticut.  The courage, determination, and efforts of those legislators must not be forgotten!

Jon Purmont is a new member of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association Executive Board.  He teaches Connecticut History and Educational History at Southern Connecticut State University.

Greater New Haven Labor History Association  •  267 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT 06513 • •

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