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Big Business (monopolies) and Exploitation of Workers

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The new processes of steel refining and the inventions in the fields of communication and technology brought about a change in the business landscape in the 19th century. The exploitation of these technologies provided opportunities for tremendous growth. The business entrepreneurs, with their financial backing and business knowledge and ambition, were able to make a fortune. Prominent Businessmen in the 19th century were called ‘robber barons’ and ‘captains of industry.’ They were called “robber barons” because they combined the qualities of a criminal and aristocracy achieved through unlawful means. They were known as ‘captains of industry’ because by becoming rich, they contributed positively to the country. The prominent businessmen offered their products at meager and reasonable prices. As a result of which they paid their workers poorly. Their competitors were unable to keep up with the costs and would drop out of the competition. The prominent business leaders were rightly called ‘captains of industry’ and ‘robber barons’ (OpenStax, 2019). Some of these industrialists were John Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and Andrew Mellon.

The Age of Industry was a time where there was rapid industrialization. Many Americans moved to the cities and suburbs and worked in factories. In the factories, the workers worked for an annual wage of twenty cents per hour, six days of the week for over sixty hours a week. In steel factories, they worked for twelve hours and seven days a week. Factory workers were the least concerned about their safety. Many of them lost their lives, and there were injuries on the job. Factory workers were performing repetitive tasks and barely interacted with their co-workers or employers. The repetitive tasks were a complete change for people used to working and interacting with others, such as working on their farms. Many women and children, too, were employed at lower wages since they were supposed to be under the care of a male family member and did not require payment. Women worked in clothing or textile industries or clerical positions. Children were small enough to fit comfortably among the machines, and they received a fraction of an adult’s pay. The article, The Triangle Disaster, focuses on a fire that took place in 1911 at the factory in New York City, which killed a large number of people (Smith, 2017). Many of those killed were teenage girls. The girls worked in the factories making blouses. The oily floors and bins full of flammable material led the fire to spread rapidly throughout the factory. There was no sprinkler system. The exit doors were locked so people could not escape. Those who used the fire escape fell to the ground as the escape collapsed. Many of the workers had no alternative but to jump out from a ninth-floor window.

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The incident at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory led to the creation of a Factory Investigating Commission. This Commission examined the safety and working conditions in New York factories. They also investigated other issues such as low wages, long working hours, child labor, and unsanitary conditions at the workplace. This disaster led to a ban on child labor, setting up a national minimum wage, and passing of thirty-six safety laws. These laws included the setup of sprinklers, fire alarms and drills, limitation on the number of occupants, labor hours, cleanliness, ventilation, etc. (‘After the Triangle Fire, ‘n.d.). The Triangle incident amended the State constitution and enacted a worker’s compensation law in 1913. The National Labor relations Act was passed in 1935 to protect the rights of employees and their employers. It encouraged employees to organize and bargain collectively with their employers and curtailed certain private-sector labor and management practices that harm the workers, businesses, and the U.S. economy. In 1970 the first primary industrial and safety law, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, was passed.

The Interstate Commerce Act in 1887 created the first interstate regulatory committee. Later the Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Act affected large businesses. The Federal Trade Commission is the main body of monopolies today. The Federal Government plays a vital role in the regulation of monopolies by controlling the price, quality of service, competition, and the welfare of the consumer. If the Government does not control the price, a monopoly is free to set any price, and it will set a price that will yield the most significant profit. Due to the high prices, consumers demand is low. As a result of which the production is small. If a firm has a monopoly on providing a particular service, it may not offer an excellent service. Government regulation will ensure the firm meets the quality of service. Regulation preserves competition and allows smaller companies to enter the market. The Federal Government imposed regulations on private industry and protected workers, consumers, and the social environment (‘The Progressive Era,” n.d.). If only one company controls the market, smaller groups will not be able to expand. America works on the freedom of free trade and competition. The Government took the responsibility of preventing the formation of monopolies and putting an end to the unfair practices of large corporations.

Theodore Roosevelt is a progressive President who attained economic justice and reform for workers. His program, known as the ‘Square Deal,’ consisted of the ‘three C’s’ consumer protection, control of corporations, and conservation. He turned his attention toward public health. He supported the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and the Pure Food and Drug Act. These laws required the federal inspection of canned foods and prevented canned foods and pharmaceuticals from being contaminated and mislabeled. He took the side of the coal miners, threatening to use federal troops to take over the mines if their owners did not improve their wages and hours. He went after corporate monopolies and earned a reputation as a ‘trust buster.’ His administration filed over forty suits against unfair business practices in the railroad, meat and sugar, and other industries. His most significant achievement was in environmental progress. During his Presidency, he set aside millions of acres as public land, including forests, wildlife refuges, and national parks (Media Rich Communications (Producer), 2004).

Woodrow Wilson passed the Underwood-Simmons tariff, which reduced tariff rates. He pursued financial reform. He established a private banking system under federal control to make credit more available throughout the country and quickly adjust the money in circulation. The Federal Reserve system was one of Wilson’s greatest achievement. He established the Federal Trade Commission and signed the Clayton Antitrust Act, both of which stopped unfair business practices (Media Rich Communications (Producer), 2004).

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