The OWS protests are captivating, disjointed and showing signs of confused frustration -- just like the late-1800's Eight-Hour Day Movement that ultimately led to the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938.
Corporate greed. Businesses amassing fortunes at the expense of workers. Frustrated, disgruntled, fed up masses. Protests, strikes, and violence.
Think I'm talking about Zuccotti Park? Actually, I'm describing the landscape in the 1880s during the height of the Industrial Revolution, but it sounds eerily familiar. At that time, workers were struggling with horrible work conditions: 14-hour workdays and six day work weeks, children laboring in factories, unhealthy and unsafe work conditions, and low pay.
The workers eventually hit a breaking point. They knew that their work environment was unhealthy and that their lifestyles were unsustainable. They were slaving away and making dismal pay, while the industrialists prospered like never before. They were at the losing end of extreme income inequality. They had a low standard of living, and no time for civic and community participation, due to their long hours. They were the 99% of the 19th century. And they were fed up.
And so, a movement was born. Not an organized, coordinated, political movement, but a messy, multi-pronged, social movement. Laborers took to the streets en masse: protests erupted. Some turned bloody and captured national attention. Into the 20th century, the movement unfolded in fits and starts across the county -- at times loud and active, at other times quiet and dormant. Response from the public and business was mixed. Some unions threw their weight behind the movement, while others did not. The workers didn't have a clear set of policy demands. They didn't coordinate a cohesive messaging strategy. They were fueled by concerns about the mal-distribution of income, dismal working conditions, and their strength in numbers.