On this day in Labor History the year was 1845. That was the day that the first Industrial Congress of the United States met in New York. People interested in the problems facing working people—including long hours, low pay and unsafe conditions gathered together.
The labor movement was just beginning in this country. These were the years when early trade unions were formed. Women played an important role in this early movement.
Female textile mill workers in Lowell Massachusetts began to organize for the ten-hour day. In 1844 they established the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association. Their goal was to improve conditions in the mills. The Lowell women’s group sent a representative to New York for the labor congress.
Another important development of the fledgling labor movement was the establishment of labor presses. George Henry Evans, a labor newsman, also attended the congress. He was the editor of a series of U.S. labor papers, starting with the Workingman’s Advocate in 1829. He had come to the United States from England, where he had been involved in the trade labor movement. He also attended the labor congress.
The meeting recommended the formation of three organizations. The first was an “Industrial Brotherhood,” for workers including farmers. The second was an “Industrial Sisterhood” for women workers. The third was a group for friends of labor. The congress met again in New York in 1847. It next met in Chicago in 1950.
These early efforts to establish larger labor groups did not gain much traction. But they began to lay the framework for workers to come together to discuss their challenges and imagine how they could work together to bring about change.