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An introduction to the history of the labor union

There are class notes, numerous Supreme Court case summaries and information on how to write a research paper inside. The Labor Union Movement in America The roots of our country's trade unions extend deep into the early history of America. Several of the Pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock in 1620 were working craftsmen.

Captain John Smith, who led the ill-fated settlement in 1607 on Virginia's James River, pleaded with his sponsors in London to send him more craftsmen and working people. In the early years of the 19th century, recorded efforts by unions to improve the workers' conditions, through either negotiation or strike action, became more frequent. By the 1820s, various unions involved in the effort to reduce the working day from 12 to 10 hours began to show interest in the idea of federation-of joining together in pursuit of common objectives for working people.

As ineffective as these first efforts to organize may have been, they reflected the need of working people for economic and legal protection from exploiting employers.

The invention of the steam engine and the growing use of water power to operate machinery were developing a trend toward a factory system not much different from that in England which produced misery and slums for decades. Starting in the 1830s and accelerating rapidly during the Civil War, the factory system accounted for an ever-growing share of American production. It also produced great wealth for a few, grinding poverty for many.

With workers recognizing the power of their employers, the number of local union organizations increased steadily during the mid-19th century.

  1. Naturally the demand for workers was high, but in this time of heightened immigration the supply of laborers keen to make their way in a new country was even higher.
  2. Therefore, many union-made products have become so expensive that sales were lost to less expensive foreign competitors and nonunion producers. There are several reasons for such a decline, the first having to do with employers keeping their businesses union-free.
  3. An orator of remarkable virtuosity, Lewis voiced increasingly bitter attacks on his colleagues on the AFL Executive Council; his words helped speed the break.
  4. With workers recognizing the power of their employers, the number of local union organizations increased steadily during the mid-19th century.
  5. Naturally the demand for workers was high, but in this time of heightened immigration the supply of laborers keen to make their way in a new country was even higher.

In a number of cities, unions in various trades joined together in citywide federations. The Nation Labor Union, actually a federation- an organization of local unions formed in 1866. Never very strong, it was a casualty of the sweeping economic depression of 1873. Five years later, the Knights of Labor captured the public imagination.

Formed in 1869 by Uriah Stephens and expanded rapidly under the leadership of Terrance Powdery, the Knights were an all-embracing organization committed to a cooperative society. Membership was open to all workers, whether they be skilled or unskilled, black or white, male or female. The Knights achieved a membership of nearly 750,000 during the next few years, but the skilled and unskilled workers who had joined the Knights in hope of improvement in their hours and wages found themselves fragmented by the rift between skilled and unskilled workers.

Skilled workers tired of labor activity on the part of unskilled workers who were easily replaced. The Knights, an effective labor force, declined an introduction to the history of the labor union the Haymarket Square riots.

In the riot members of the Knights of Labor where accused of throwing a bomb which killed police officers. The Knights, already fragmented, where faced with enormous negative publicity, and eventually disbanded. A statement by the founders of the AFL expressed their belief in the need for more effective union organization. The strike illustrated the increasing tendency of the government to offer moral support and military force to break strikes.

The injunction, issued usually and almost automatically by compliant judges on the request of government officials or corporations, became a prime legal weapon against union organizing and action. A better method of federal intervention occurred during a 1902 strike of anthracite coal miners, under the banner of the United Mine Workers.

More than 100,000 miners in northeastern Pennsylvania called a strike on May 12, and kept the mines closed all that summer. Five days later the miners returned to their jobs, and five months later the Presidential Commission awarded them a 10 percent wage increase and shorter work days-but not the formal union recognition they had sought. In 1911 a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. About 150 employees almost all of them young women-perished when the fire swept through the upper floors of the loft building in which they worked.

Many burned to death; others jumped and died. Why so large a casualty list? The safety exits on the burning floors had been securely locked, allegedly to prevent "loss of goods.

A state factory investigation committee headed by Frances Perkins she was to become Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of labor in 1933, the first woman cabinet member in history paved the way for many long needed reforms in industrial safety and fire prevention measures.

Another of the historic industrial conflicts prior to World War I occurred in 1912 in the textile mills of Lawrence, Mass. The move produced predictable results: Some 400 children of strikers were "adopted" by sympathizers.

The Early Labor Movement

When women strikers and their children were attacked at the railroad station by the police after authorities had decided no more youngsters could leave town, an enraged public protest finally forced the mill owners not only to restore the pay cuts but to increase the workers' wages to more realistic levels.

Congress, at the urging of the AFL, created a separate U. Department of Labor with a legislative mandate to protect and extend the rights of wage earners. A Children's Bureau, with a major concern to protect the victims of job exploitation, was created. The LaFollette Seaman's Act required urgently needed improvements in the working conditions on ships of the U.

Of crucial importance, the Clayton Act of 1914 made explicit the legal concept that "the labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce" and hence not subject to the Sherman Act provisions which had been the legal basis for injunctions against union organization. Clayton gave legalized strikes and boycotts and peaceful picketing, and dramatically limited the use of injunctions in labor disputes.

Throughout the decade, unemployment rose, quietly, almost anonymously.

  1. Often held outdoors in the summer, the music, talks, food, drink, and film have attracted hundreds of thousands of attendees each year.
  2. Apprentice laws, agricultural labour laws, illegal combination, Peterloo, Chartism, friendly societies and cooperatives, New Unionism, political party formation, socialism, anarchism, communism, craft unionism. Congress, at the urging of the AFL, created a separate U.
  3. Congress, at the urging of the AFL, created a separate U.
  4. Often held outdoors in the summer, the music, talks, food, drink, and film have attracted hundreds of thousands of attendees each year. Strikebreaking, blacklisting and vigilanteeism became, for a time, acceptable aspects of this new and spurious brand of patriotism.
  5. In 1893, Members of Parliament in the Colony of Queensland briefly formed the world's first labour government.

It was a time of considerable hardship for many of the unemployed, long before the days of unemployment insurance or supplementary benefits. The post world war I depression brought wages down sharply and caused major erosion of union membership-a loss of about a million members in the years from 1920 to 1923. The difficulties were multiplied by the decision of the National Association of Manufacturers and other antiunion "open shop" groups to wipe out or seriously diminish the status of Americancan unions.

The fear of "Bolsheviks," often hysterical, that was nurtured by the Russian communist revolution was used gleefully by the antiunion forces.

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As early as 1913, President John Kirby of the NAM had decided the trade union movement was "an un-American, illegal and infamous conspiracy. Strikebreaking, blacklisting and vigilanteeism became, for a time, acceptable aspects of this new and spurious brand of patriotism. The "yellow dog contract," which workers had to sign in order to get a job, bound them never to join a union; at the same time, the corporations promoted employee representation plans or company unions-pale and generally useless imitations of the real thing.

In November 1935, John L. Lewis announced the creation of the CIO, the Committee for Industrial Organization, composed of about a dozen leaders of AFL unions, to carry on the effort for industrial unionism.

Industrial Unions are unions that organize an entire industry regardless of skill. In short they where unions of unskilled workers. Lewis, born in Iowa in 1880 of Welsh immigrant parents, went to work in the coal mines and became president of the Mine Workers in 1920.

An orator of remarkable virtuosity, Lewis voiced increasingly bitter attacks on his colleagues on the AFL Executive Council; his words helped speed the break. In 1936, the various CIO unions were expelled from the Federation. In any event, the CIO began a remarkably successful series of organizing campaigns, and over the next few years, brought industrial unionism to large sectors of basic American industry.

At the same time the unions remaining in the AFL registered even more substantial gains in membership. During World War 11, the AFL and CIO, while preserving areas of disagreement, began to find more substantial bases for working together on problems affecting all workers.

In time many of the old antagonisms had died out and the old issues had been resolved. The stage was set for merger of the two labor groups. The AFL-CIO merger and its accompanying an introduction to the history of the labor union brought about the virtual elimination of jurisdictional disputes between unions that had plagued the labor movement and alienated public sympathy in earlier years.

The unions placed a new priority on organizing workers in areas, industries and plants where no effective system of labor representation yet existed. In many cases, it meant crossing the barriers of old thinking and tired methods to reach the employees of companies which for years had resisted unions.

For the past forty years there has been a steady decline in both union membership and influence. There are several reasons for such a decline, the first having to do with employers keeping their businesses union-free. Some were active in their opposition and even hired consultants to devise legal strategies to combat unions. Other employers put workers on the management team by appointing them to the board of directors or establishing profit-sharing plans an introduction to the history of the labor union reward employees.

The second reason for union decline is that new additions to the labor force have traditionally had little loyalty to organized labor. Because more and more women and teenagers are working and their incomes tend to be a family's second income, they have a proclivity towards accepting lower wages, thus defeating the purpose of organized labor.

Labour movement

The third and possibly the most important reason for the decline in unions is that they are victims of their own success. Unions raised their wages substantially above the wages paid to nonunion workers. Therefore, many union-made products have become so expensive that sales were lost to less expensive foreign competitors and nonunion producers.

This resulted in companies having to cut back on production, which caused some workers to lose their jobs, and hence, unions some of their members. Also, the recent shift in this country towards technology and service has made our economy less reliant in the types of industrial jobs that tended to be union strongholds.

Today's worker tends to more highly educated and tends to the professional, white coller class. All of these have conspired to decrease union membership.