By Tom Juravich, William F. Hartford, James R. Green

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Extra info for Commonwealth of Toil: Chapters in the History of Massachusetts Workers and Their Unions

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These two efforts to achieve a ten-hour day differed in important ways. Middle-class reformers played an important role in the NEWA, whose activities went beyond the ten-hour day to include other issues such as land reform. Even more significant was the active role played by women. Where Seth Luther and his colleagues excluded women from their public activities, the NEWA constitution extended "all the rights, privileges and obligations" of the association to women's labor groups. The contributions of women workers from the Lowell Page 23 Charles Dale Turnball, an early Boston craftsman.

By the 1840s, the expansion of the factory system in Massachusetts, the cutthroat competition among manufacturers, and the increased use of machinery led to work "stretchouts" and wage cuts. Yankee "mill girls" living in boardinghouses had been joined by poverty-stricken Irish families living in tenements. At the same time, the old "community of interest" between master craftsmen and journeymen had broken down. Many found their trades threatened by machines and factories and by unskilled "greenhands" who worked for poverty wages.

The LFLRA supported the ten-hour day movement of the mid-1840s. Bagley led a vigorous petition drive and submitted thousands of signatures demanding legislation to improve conditions in the mills and for a shorter workday to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The Committee on Manufacturing conducted hearings, declaring that if petitioners did not come forward, the documents would be dismissed. Bagley and many other workers appeared in Boston to provide dramatic testimony supplementing their signatures, but their appeal was rejected.

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Commonwealth of Toil: Chapters in the History of Massachusetts Workers and Their Unions by Tom Juravich, William F. Hartford, James R. Green


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