Progress and Poverty

Trade unions formed an Independent Labor party and nominated for mayor Henry George, the radical economist, whose Progress and Poverty had been read by tens of thousands of workers. George’s platform tells something about the conditions of life for workers in New York in the 1880s. It demanded:

  1. that property qualifications be abolished for members of juries.
  2. that Grand Jurors be chosen from the lower-class as well as from the upperclass, which dominated Grand Juries.
  3. that the police not interfere with peaceful meetings.
  4. that the sanitary inspection of buildings be enforced.
  5. that contract labor be abolished in public works.
  6. that there be equal pay for equal work for women.
  7. that the streetcars be owned by the municipal government.

In 1886, as a new mayor was being elected for New York City, the issues for workers were unfathomable if compared to the issues for workers in today’s society. Zinn highlights Henry George’s platform, and although considered a radical, these conditions accentuate how terrible and inhumane the factories were for workers, as well as the way that ¬†workers were treated. For instance, numbers three and six are particularly shocking, three because in this age, unsafe buildings are never, under any conditions, used in any way, and six for the opposite reason: women still do not, in many fields, receive equal pay for equal work, and that this is considered a radical idea along with the other items is surprising. Zinn is trying to place a clear connection between the so-called radical ideas of the late 1800’s and the widely accepted ideas of today. While a few of these ideas seem rather minor, they were instrumental to emphasize to make bigger changes, one little change at a time. Although George did not win the election, he place din second, and drew attention to his cause in the process.