Section 107, David Hyde
27 April 2015
Between the years of 1880 and 1920, more than 4 million Italians immigrated to America (Hall 1987: 54). Italy was compromised of many races of different origins, and there was a broad distinction between the northern and southern Italians. Southern Italians were poor, unskilled workers who worked in agriculture. The northern Italians were generally wealthier, more enterprising, and more intelligent than their fellow southern countrymen. The group of northern Italians were peaceable and industrious, and improved the trades in which they engaged. Although these two groups were quite different, they both chose to relocate to America (Hall 1987:55).
The earliest and largest group of Italian immigrants was of a very low class, and faced many hardships in southern Italy. Farmers were improvised as a result of bad harvests, low wages, harsh taxes, and food shortages. Farmers were making from 8 to 34 cents a day in Italy, an inconsiderably low number for the time (Barrows et al. 1962:8). Living in rural Italy was misery, and many were desperate for any way out in order to survive. For the average Italian migration was an opportunity for liberation and America was supposed to have “streets paved of gold” (Interview with Grace Dagostino, February 2015). The majority of immigrants around the turn of the century were males between the ages of 24 and 45. Many expected to stay in the United States only long enough to earn money to improve their family situation (Hall 1987: 56). Others intended to send for their families as soon as they could. On the contrary, the northern Italian did not necessarily face these harsh conditions. These families were wealthier, and hear rumors that America was full of opportunities to make a small fortune. America was a growing industrial center, and needed both skilled and unskilled workers to build its economy. Both of these groups hoped to find better labor opportunities in America. However, America’s free market was not all that the Italians hoped it would be. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the increasing number of factories was transforming American cities into urban industrial centers. This resulted in a huge labor demand. Between 1880 and 1924, 25 million immigrants transformed the face of the America’s laboring population (Hall 1987: 13). However, for Italians and many other groups of immigrants, the reality and exploitation of this new laboring system was not much different from what they were used to back home. Industry was largely unregulated by the government before World War I, and the unskilled worker suffered to survive in America. Industrialization and immigration created a set of new social classes. The concept of class was being based on economic terms of the rich and poor. These ideas of class struggles are the basis of Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. Marx writes, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (Marx and Engles 1848:14). Although Marx focuses on Britain, the same types of class struggles were occurring in America. Marx argues that with capitalism and urbanization, an inevitable class struggle between the powerful bourgeois and working class would eventually cause an upheaval. For the Italians this exploitation occurred commonly in the padrone system, a system centered in New York that was implemented after the civil war and not eradicated until the middle of the 20th century. A padrone was a middleman in the labor trade, helping poor immigrants obtain transportation to America, jobs upon arrival, and basic needs in an alien society. This system functioned as the only intermediate between immigrants and the American economy. The padroni controlled the wages, contracts, and food supply of the immigrants. Under his authority, workers were commonly mistreated. They worked 12 to 14 hour workdays, and was provided horrid living conditions. The...
Cited: Kessner, Thomas
1977 The Golden Door: Italian and Jewish Immigrant Mobility in New York City, 1880-1915
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