At the turn of the century, textile mills and clothing manufacture became a popular industry in the employment of women, children, and immigrants. These early mills relied on an unlimited supply of human labor that would endure long unregulated working hours, poorly ventilated areas, and non-stop piecework. The conditions at these mills cried out for reform but at the turn of the century there was no permanent aid in sight. Feeble attempts were made to improve this industry in the form of employee strikes and weak government legislation.
However, it was not until Unions were established and textile workers united that conditions at these mills improved and became more favorable. Unions helped establish laws to protect workers health, workplace safety and hourly wages. Occupational diseases and injuries once prevalent in the textile mills decreased because of legislation requiring industry standards to maintain safe and healthy work environments for textile workers.
Today, most of the old textile mills in the United States are gone but the textile industry continues. Many of the garments worn today are being manufactured in foreign countries like Honduras and El Salvador because labor is inexpensive, and American industries do not have to abide by the health and safety regulations of the United States. In these and other foreign countries, women and children continue to work in sweatshop conditions similar to those of the United States at the turn of the century. Even in places like California and New York, immigrants are being held against their will and are being forced to produce clothing.
Worker exploitation still continues today, and Unions are still actively seeking out those employers who engage in this abuse. It is only through the education and awareness of the public that employers in the textile industries will be forced to treat their employees in more humane ways and take responsibility for health and safety of their workers. By providing students with the knowledge of past and present working conditions of textile industries, students will be able to make wise consumer choices and become advocates for awareness and reform of industries in the future.