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Unity Partnership and formation of the federation

Legality and Hunt (1842)

Main article: Commonwealth v. Hunt

By the beginning of the 19th century, after the revolution, little had changed. The career path for most artisans still involved apprenticeship under a master, followed by moving into independent production.[8] However, over the course of the Industrial Revolution, this model rapidly changed, particularly in the major metropolitan areas. For instance, in Boston in 1790, the vast majority of the 1,300 artisans in the city described themselves as “master workman”. By 1815, journeymen workers without independent means of production had displaced these “masters” as the majority. By that time journeymen also outnumbered masters in New York City and Philadelphia.[9] This shift occurred as a result of large-scale transatlantic and rural-urban migration. Migration into the coastal cities created a larger population of potential laborers, which in turn allowed controllers of capital to invest in labor-intensive enterprises on a larger scale. Craft workers found that these changes launched them into competition with each other to a degree that they had not experienced previously, which limited their opportunities and created substantial risks of downward mobility that had not existed prior to that time.[8]

These conditions led to the first labor combination cases in America. Over the first half of the 19th century, there are twenty-three known cases of indictment and prosecution for criminal conspiracy, taking place in six states: PennsylvaniaMarylandNew YorkLouisianaMassachusetts, and Virginia.[10] The central question in these cases was invariably whether workmen in combination would be permitted to use their collective bargaining power to obtain benefits—increased wages, decreased hours, or improved conditions—which were beyond their ability to obtain as individuals. The cases overwhelmingly resulted in convictions. However, in most instances the plaintiffs’ desire was to establish favorable precedent, not to impose harsh penalties, and the fines were typically modest.