As things start to look gloomy for George Russell’s business, the Russell family faces fresh problems in the second season of HBO’s “The Gilded Age.” George and other businesspeople are prepared to let the workers starve to death rather than give in to the labour union’s demands for their welfare, which they view as absurd. But if it comes to it, the union is also prepared to battle to the bitter end. Mr. Henderson, their leader, promises to get them what they are due. Viewers are sure to ask if Mr. Henderson is based on a real person because the show, despite being fictional, frequently uses real-life incidents to develop its narrative.
Henderson’s Arc Portrays The Gilded Age’s Real Labor Strikes
Although Mr. Henderson in “The Gilded Age” is a fictional character, he was modelled by actual labour union leaders who fought for workers’ rights in that era. Mr. Henderson leads the Knights of Labour in the show; the Knights of Labour were a real group that existed in the late 1800s. With an estimated 700,000 members at one point, it was one of the most prominent labour movement movements in the later part of the 1800s.
When the owners of the enterprises attempted to reduce the wages of the workers in railway manufacturers, the workers organised to defend their rights during the 1880s. After Joseph Buchanan led a walkout in 1884, the decision to reduce salary was reversed four days later. A few months later, when the corporations attempted the same thing, the organisation came together once more. They have to retract their decision within five days.
The labour movement was not abandoned by the Knights of Labour, who are credited with organising multiple successful strikes. In order to guarantee that employees didn’t suffer any injuries at work and, in the event that they did, that they would receive just compensation, they also pushed for reforms that would permit a reduction in work hours combined with tighter safety regulations. In “The Gilded Age,” Mr. Henderson organises a strike with the same intention, despite George Russell and others’ best efforts to reach him.
When the union and the firm are unable to come to an agreement, Mr. Henderson leads the employees on an armed strike in the sixth episode of Season 2, where they are determined to prevent the company from hiring their replacements. Tension builds in the scene, and it briefly appears as though there may be bloodshed because both sides are prepared to shoot one another down. The Homestead strike of 1892, which occurred roughly ten years after the events in the show, which take place sometime in 1883, is most likely recreated in this scene.
The Homestead strike started on July 1, 1892, and on July 6, the workers squared off against the Carnegie Steel Company’s private security and then the National Guard. In actuality, the union suffered a crushing loss. But in the show, when George Russell gives up just before the showdown is due to happen, things go in a very unexpected direction. Even if it means giving in to the union’s demands, he doesn’t want any blood on his hands. In the actual world, things didn’t come together until the workers fought harder and longer.
In response to a question regarding the labour union arc’s applicability in the modern world, author Sonja Warfield stated: “Things change, but they remain the same.” America is currently experiencing extreme income disparity. The middle class is vanishing while the wealthy are becoming increasingly wealthy. Then there are those at the bottom, and that’s how things were in “The Gilded Age,” when there were these enormous robber barons. There is a housing shortage and income inequality in our society. Due to the worker’s lack of worth and humanization, they had labour strikes in the past, which is why we are currently experiencing one.
Although the show’s writers hadn’t intended for it to air during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, the show’s release coincidentally felt very relevant. Taking everything into account, it is reasonable to conclude that despite being set approximately 150 years in the past, the second season of “The Gilded Age” has resonated with the current climate. Characters like Mr. Henderson, while fictional, have real-life counterparts who are battling for the rights of workers across the nation.