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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

The Populist Party: A Building Block of the Modern Labor Standards

During the late 1800s the Industrial Revolution was just getting started. While this had created more jobs, it had created a large divide between the workers and the people who employ them. With the new concept of business owners creating monopolies it allowed them to eliminate competition and be the only source of jobs in a specific industry. With machine shops dominating the job market, as well as sub-par working condition a new political party came to the forefront. This new party was the Populist Party and they were formally organized in 1892 although they’re movement was created in the 1880s (Omaha Platform: Launching the Populist Party, 1893). While some of their goals were far-fetched they had many ideas that were very reasonable, even to the extent that were accepted into society. These reasonable policies that they had were to have eight-hour work days, an income tax, and the direct election of senators. With the birth of this new Populist Party these ideas would be forged into the working-class mindset and carries on to this day.

When the Populist Party first created their movement, the industrial revolution was booming, but had become monopolized. This led to lower pay and even worse working conditions. People were being exploited by big business because it was the only means of work. If these people were uncooperative they could be easily replaced, so the Populist Party came up with the idea of stopping this exploitation. One of the reasonable solutions they implanted in America was the idea of a shorter work day to prevent the overworking of people. They were the  first to propose an eight-hour work day, which has become the standard in the US to this day (Omaha Platform: Launching the Populist Party, 1893). This not only allowed people to be happier with their job, but it allowed more workers to be hired. Now instead of having the same workers put in extensive hours they had multiple shifts that could work. Along with these shifts came a more consistent product because workers were nearing exhaustion at the end of a shift. While the monopolies may not have liked it the eight-hour shift benefits the vast majority of the population to this day.

This political party had become a breath of fresh air within the corrupt politics of the late 19th century. The Populist ideas that they had were mainly reasonable ideas, but not always perceived as that from the people. One idea that had a great outcome but seemed to upset a lot of people was the concept of an income tax. Not only did they propose and income tax but they had they idea of a graduated tax (Omaha Platform: Launching the Populist Party, 1893). This idea of a graduated income tax had the same idea that our current tax system refers to as tax brackets. The graduated income tax was a proposal that those who made more should pay a higher percentage than those who were in the midst of poverty. Of course, the population was already upset about their average wage and weren’t too accepting to the idea of receiving even less. Although the initial reaction was mixed, the benefits were eventually construed to the public. Although the tax system we have today has been modified numerous times this idea from the Populist Party laid the foundation. This new party had some of very solid ideas with progress and equality as the center.

The idea conveyed by the Populist Party that connected with everyone besides the wealthy was that every senator should be directly elected into office by the people (Omaha Platform: Launching the Populist Party, 1893). This resonated with the people so well because at the time the rich business owners were controlling their employees voting, along with the senators that were getting elected. The senators during the rise of the Populist Party were in their job as friends of big businesses. A big reason behind proposing this idea was that politics were no longer run by people or even politicians. The monopolies had bought their connections into senate positions. Everyone began noticing how the businessmen were extending their reach far beyond the workplace and into the policies of the nation. This was an outstanding idea that was introduced at the perfect time. Populists made it possible for the people to choose who represents us and this has prevented corruption, to an extent, to this day.

The creation of the Populist Party and its ideals have had a lasting effect on the growth of our country. During a time when corruption was abundant, and workers were abused, this party sought to take America back for the masses. They had some very logical ideas that helped bring us into modern policies like an income tax. The original concept of tax brackets was a result of their policies,although it was referred to as a graduated tax. This idea was logical but not too well accepted as much as their proposition of an eight-hour work day. Along with increase in productivity as well as quality this shorter work day opened up the door for more people to have employment. The idea that substantially changed politics was the direct election of senators by the people. Americans had grown tired of the corruption and sought change from what had become the norm. Something that may resonate with us to this day. Although the Populists had ideas that were seen as eccentric they believed they would be beneficial, so they continued to push for them. This persistence helped transformed politics in this country for the better. What people accept as being beneficial and what is actually beneficial can be very far apart as demonstrated by this bold movement in the 1800s known as the Populist movement.

Keywords: Great Depression, Labor Market, Union

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