The LABOR HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES describes the history of organized labor , as well as more general history of working people, in the United States. Unions have been important components of the Democratic Party , but that began in the 1930s . However, historians have long debated why no Labor Party emerged in the United States, in contrast to Western Europe.
The nature and power of organized labor is the outcome of historical
tensions among counter-acting forces involving workplace rights,
wages, working hours, political expression, labor laws , and other
working conditions. Organized unions and their umbrella labor
federations such as the
As commentator E. J. Dionne has noted, the union movement has traditionally espoused a set of values—solidarity being the most important, the sense that each should look out for the interests of all. From this followed commitments to mutual assistance, to a rough-and-ready sense of equality, to a disdain for elitism, and to a belief that democracy and individual rights did not stop at the plant gate or the office reception room. Dionne notes that these values are "increasingly foreign to American culture". In most industrial nations the labor movement sponsored its own political parties, with the U.S. as a conspicuous exception. Both major American parties vied for union votes, with the Democrats usually much more successful. Labor unions became a central element of the New Deal Coalition that dominated national politics from the 1930s into the mid-1960s during the Fifth Party System . Liberal Republicans who supported unions in the Northeast lost power after 1964.
The history of organized labor has been a specialty of scholars since the 1890s, and has produced a large amount of scholarly literature focused on the structure of organized unions. In the 1960s, as social history gained popularity, a new emphasis emerged on the history of workers, including unorganized workers, and with special regard to gender and race. This is called "the new labor history ". Much scholarship has attempted to bring the social history perspectives into the study of organized labor.
* 1 Organized labor to 1900
* 1.1 Legality and Hunt (1842)
* 1.2 Early federations
* 1.3 Railroad brotherhoods
Knights of Labor
* 2 Organized labor 1900–1920
* 2.1 Coal strikes, 1900–1902
* 2.2 Women\'s Trade Union League
Industrial Workers of the World
* 2.6 Strikes of 1919
* 2.6.1 Coal Strike of 1919 * 2.6.2 Women telephone operators win strike in 1919
* 3 Weakness of organized labor 1920–1929
* 4 Organized labor 1929–1955
* 4.1 The
* 4.8 PAC and politics of 1940s
* 4.8.1 Strike wave of 1945
* 5 Unions since 1955
* 5.1 AFL and CIO merger 1955
* 5.2 Conservative attacks
Civil Rights Movement
* 6 Public-sector unions
* 7 See also * 8 Notes
* 9 References
* 9.1 Surveys * 9.2 Specialized studies * 9.3 Historiography * 9.4 Primary sources
* 10 External links
ORGANIZED LABOR TO 1900
The history of labor disputes in America substantially precedes the
Revolutionary period. In 1636, for instance, there was a fishermen's
strike on an island off the coast of
LEGALITY AND HUNT (1842)
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. However, over the course of the
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:
One of the central themes of the cases prior to the landmark decision
Commonwealth v. Hunt
As a result of the spate of convictions against combinations of
laborers, the typical narrative of early American labor law states
that, prior to Hunt in
However, case law in America prior to Hunt was mixed. Pullis was actually unusual in strictly following the English common law and holding that a combination to raise wages was by itself illegal. More often combination cases prior to Hunt did not hold that unions were illegal per se, but rather found some other justification for a conviction . After Pullis in 1806, eighteen other prosecutions of laborers for conspiracies followed within the next three decades. However, only one such case, People v. Fisher, also held that a combination for the purpose of raising wages was illegal . Several other cases held that the methods used by the unions , rather than the unions themselves, were illegal . For instance, in People v. Melvin, cordwainers were again convicted of a conspiracy to raise wages . Unlike in Pullis, however, the court held that the combination's existence itself was not unlawful, but nevertheless reached a conviction because the cordwainers had refused to work for any master who paid lower wages, or with any laborer who accepted lower wages, than what the combination had stipulated. The court held that methods used to obtain higher wages would be unlawful if they were judged to be deleterious to the general welfare of the community. Commonwealth v. Morrow continued to refine this standard, stating that, "an agreement of two or more to the prejudice of the rights of others or of society" would be illegal. Another line of cases, led by Justice John Gibson of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania's decision in Commonwealth v. Carlisle, held that motive of the combination, rather than simply its existence, was the key to illegality. Gibson wrote, "Where the act is lawful for an individual, it can be the subject of a conspiracy, when done in concert, only where there is a direct intention that injury shall result from it". Still other courts rejected Pullis' rule of per se illegality in favor of a rule that asked whether the combination was a but-for cause of injury . Thus, as economist Edwin Witte stated, "The doctrine that a combination to raise wages is illegal was allowed to die by common consent. No leading case was required for its overthrow". Nevertheless, while Hunt was not the first case to hold that labor combinations were legal, it was the first to do so explicitly and in clear terms.
Main articles: National Labor Union and Order of the Knights of St. Crispin
The National Labor Union (NLU), founded in 1866, was the first national labor federation in the United States. It was dissolved in 1872.
The regional Order of the Knights of St. Crispin was founded in the northeast in 1867 and claimed 50,000 members by 1870, by far the largest union in the country. A closely associated union of women, the Daughters of St. Crispin , formed in 1870. In 1879 the Knights formally admitted women, who by 1886 comprised 10% of the union's membership, but it was poorly organized and soon declined. They fought encroachments of machinery and unskilled labor on autonomy of skilled shoe workers. One provision in the Crispin constitution explicitly sought to limit the entry of "green hands" into the trade, but this failed because the new machines could be operated by semi-skilled workers and produce more shoes than hand sewing.
The Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886 was a trade union strike involving more than 200,000 workers.
With the rapid growth and consolidation of large railroad systems
after 1870, union organizations sprang up, covering the entire nation.
By 1901, 17 major railway brotherhoods were in operation; they
generally worked amicably with management, which recognized their
usefulness. Key unions included the Brotherhood of Locomotive
Engineers (BLE), the
Order of Railway Conductors , the Brotherhood of
Locomotive Firemen , and the
Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen
They were not members of the AFL, and fought off more radical rivals
such as the
Knights of Labor
KNIGHTS OF LABOR
Knights of Labor
The first effective labor organization that was more than regional in membership and influence was the Knights of Labor, organized in 1869. The Knights believed in the unity of the interests of all producing groups and sought to enlist in their ranks not only all laborers but everyone who could be truly classified as a producer. The acceptance of all producers led to explosive growth after 1880. Under the leadership of Terence V. Powderly they championed a variety of causes, sometimes through political or cooperative ventures.
Powderly hoped to gain their ends through politics and education rather than through economic coercion. The Knights were especially successful in developing a working class culture , involving women, families, sports, and leisure activities and educational projects for the membership. The Knights strongly promoted their version of republicanism that stressed the centrality of free labor, preaching harmony and cooperation among producers, as opposed to parasites and speculators.
One of the earliest railroad strikes was also one of the most
successful. In 1885, the
Knights of Labor
As strikers rallied against the McCormick plant, a team of political
anarchists, who were not Knights, tried to piggyback support among
striking Knights workers. A bomb exploded as police were dispersing a
peaceful rally, killing seven policemen and wounding many others. The
anarchists were blamed, and their spectacular trial gained national
Knights of Labor
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR
American Federation of Labor
Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions began in 1881
under the leadership of
Strikes organized by labor unions became routine events by the 1880s. There were 37,000 strikes, 1881 to 1905. By far the largest number were in the building trades, followed far behind by coal miners. The main goal was control of working conditions, setting uniform wage scales, protesting the firing of a member, and settling which rival union was in control. Most strikes were of very short duration. In times of depression strikes were more violent but less successful, because the company was losing money anyway. They were successful in times of prosperity when the company was losing profits and wanted to settle quickly.
The Federation made some efforts to obtain favorable legislation, but had little success in organizing or chartering new unions. It came out in support of the proposal, traditionally attributed to Peter J. McGuire of the Carpenters Union, for a national Labor Day holiday on the first Monday in September, and threw itself behind the eight hour movement, which sought to limit the workday by either legislation or union organizing.
In 1886, as the relations between the trade union movement and the
Knights of Labor
The AFL was formed in large part because of the dissatisfaction of many trade union leaders with the Knights of Labor, an organization that contained many trade unions and that had played a leading role in some of the largest strikes of the era. The new AFL distinguished itself from the Knights by emphasizing the autonomy of each trade union affiliated with it and limiting membership to workers and organizations made up of workers, unlike the Knights which, because of its producerist focus, welcomed some who were not wage workers.
The AFL grew steadily in the late 19th century while the Knights all but disappeared. Although Gompers at first advocated something like industrial unionism , he retreated from that in the face of opposition from the craft unions that made up most of the AFL.
The unions of the AFL were composed primarily of skilled men; unskilled workers, African-Americans, and women were generally excluded. The AFL saw women as threatening the jobs of men, since they often worked for lower wages. The AFL provided little to no support for women's attempts to unionize.
WESTERN FEDERATION OF MINERS
Western Federation of Miners
During the major economic depression of the early 1890s, the Pullman
Palace Car Company cut wages in its factories. Discontented workers
American Railway Union
The railroads were able to get Edwin Walker, general counsel for the
Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway, appointed as a special
federal attorney with responsibility for dealing with the strike.
Walker went to federal court and obtained an injunction barring union
leaders from supporting the boycott in any way. The court injunction
was based on the
Sherman Anti-Trust Act
The strike was broken up by United States Marshals and some 2,000
United States Army
ORGANIZED LABOR 1900–1920
Part of a series on
History UTOPIAN SOCIALISM
* St. Louis Commune
1912 Lawrence Textile Strike
REPRESSION AND PERSECUTION
Espionage Act of 1917
CIVIL RIGHTS / ANTI-WAR MOVEMENTS
Black Riders Liberation Party
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CDCS)
Communist Party USA
American Labor Party
* v * t * e
New York City
Nationwide from 1890 to 1914 the unionized wages in manufacturing rose from $17.63 a week to $21.37, and the average work week fell from 54.4 to 48.8 hours a week. The pay for all factory workers was $11.94 and $15.84 because unions reached only the more skilled factory workers.
COAL STRIKES, 1900–1902
Coal Strike of 1902
United Mine Workers
WOMEN\'S TRADE UNION LEAGUE
The Women\'s Trade Union League was a support group that did not
organize locals. It formed at the 1903 AFL convention in
INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD
Industrial Workers of the World
Industrial Workers of the World
Much of the IWW's organizing took place in the West, and most of its early members were miners, lumbermen, cannery, and dock workers. In 1912 the IWW organized a strike of more than twenty thousand textile workers , and by 1917 the Agricultural Workers Organization (AWO) of the IWW claimed a hundred thousand itinerant farm workers in the heartland of North America. Eventually the concept of One Big Union spread from dock workers to maritime workers, and thus was communicated to many different parts of the world. Dedicated to workplace and economic democracy , the IWW allowed men and women as members, and organized workers of all races and nationalities, without regard to current employment status. At its peak it had 150,000 members (with 200,000 membership cards issued between 1905 and 1916 ), but it was fiercely repressed during, and especially after, World War I with many of its members killed, about 10,000 organizers imprisoned, and thousands more deported as foreign agitators. The IWW proved that unskilled workers could be organized. The IWW exists today, but its most significant impact was during its first two decades of existence.
GOVERNMENT AND LABOR
In 1908 the U.S. Supreme Court decided Loewe v. Lawlor (the Danbury Hatters' Case). In 1902 the Hatters' Union instituted a nationwide boycott of the hats made by a nonunion company in Connecticut. Owner Dietrich Loewe brought suit against the union for unlawful combinations to restrain trade in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act . The Court ruled that the union was subject to an injunction and liable for the payment of triple damages.
In 1915 Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes , speaking for the Court, again decided in favor of Loewe, upholding a lower federal court ruling ordering the union to pay damages of $252,130. (The cost of lawyers had already exceeded $100,000, paid by the AFL). This was not a typical case in which a few union leaders were punished with short terms in jail; specifically, the life savings of several hundreds of the members were attached. The lower court ruling established a major precedent, and became a serious issue for the unions.
The Clayton Act of 1914 presumably exempted unions from the antitrust prohibition and established for the first time the Congressional principle that "the labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce". However, judicial interpretation so weakened it that prosecutions of labor under the antitrust acts continued until the enactment of the Norris-La Guardia Act in 1932.
* Loewe v. Lawlor , 208 U.S. 274 (1908), 235 U.S. 522 (1915)
State legislation 1912–1918: 36 states adopted the principle of workmen's compensation for all industrial accidents. Also: prohibition of the use of an industrial poison, several states require one day's rest in seven, the beginning of effective prohibition of night work, of maximum limits upon the length of the working day, and of minimum wage laws for women.
WORLD WAR I
Gompers and nearly all labor unions were strong supporters of the war
effort. They used their leverage to gain recognition and higher wages.
They minimized strikes as wages soared and full employment was
reached. To keep factories running smoothly, Wilson established the
National War Labor Board in 1918, which forced management to negotiate
with existing unions. The AFL unions and the railway brotherhoods
strongly encouraged their young men to enlist in the military. They
fiercely opposed efforts to reduce recruiting and slow war production
by the anti-war IWW and left-wing Socialists. President Wilson
appointed Gompers to the powerful
Council of National Defense
STRIKES OF 1919
In 1919, the AFL tried to make their gains permanent and called a series of major strikes in meat, steel, and many other industries. Management counterattacked, claiming that key strikes were run by Communists intent on destroying capitalism. Nearly all the strikes ultimately failed, forcing unions back to positions similar to those around 1910.
Coal Strike Of 1919
"Keeping Warm", the
Los Angeles Times
United Mine Workers
Lewis, facing criminal charges and sensitive to the propaganda campaign, withdrew his strike call. Lewis did not fully control the faction-ridden UAW and many locals ignored his call. As the strike dragged on into its third week, supplies of the nation's main fuel were running low and the public called for ever stronger government action. Final agreement came after five weeks with the miners getting a 14% raise, far less than they wanted.
Women Telephone Operators Win Strike In 1919
One important strike was won by labor. Moved to action by the rising
cost of living, the president of the
WEAKNESS OF ORGANIZED LABOR 1920–1929
The 1920s marked a period of sharp decline for the labor movement. Union membership and activities fell sharply in the face of economic prosperity, a lack of leadership within the movement, and anti-union sentiments from both employers and the government. The unions were much less able to organize strikes. In 1919, more than 4 million workers (or 21 percent of the labor force) participated in about 3,600 strikes. In contrast, 1929 witnessed about 289,000 workers (or 1.2 percent of the labor force) stage only 900 strikes.
After a short recession in 1920, the 1920s was a generally prosperous decade outside of farming and coal mining. The GNP growth 1921-29 was a very strong 6.0%, double the long-term average of about 3%. Real annual earnings (in 1914 dollars) for all employees (deducting for unemployment) was $566 in 1921 and $793 in 1929, a real gain of 40%. The economic prosperity of the decade led to stable prices, eliminating one major incentive to join unions. Unemployment fell from 11.7% in 1921 to 2.4% in 1923 and remained in the range of 2%-5% until 1930.
The 1920s also saw a lack of strong leadership within the labor
Employers across the nation led a successful campaign against unions
known as the "American Plan", which sought to depict unions as "alien"
to the nation's individualistic spirit. In addition, some employers,
National Association of Manufacturers
U.S. courts were less hospitable to union activities during the 1920s than in the past. In this decade, corporations used twice as many court injunctions against strikes than any comparable period. In addition, the practice of forcing employees (by threat of termination) to sign yellow-dog contracts that said they would not join a union was not outlawed until 1932.
Although the labor movement fell in prominence during the 1920s, the
GREAT RAILROAD STRIKE OF 1922
The Great Railroad Strike of 1922 , a nationwide railroad shop workers strike, began on July 1. The immediate cause of the strike was the Railroad Labor Board's announcement that hourly wages for railway repair and maintenance workers would be cut by seven cents on July 1. This cut, which represented an average 12% wage decrease for the affected workers, prompted a shop workers vote on whether or not to strike. The operators' union did not join in the strike, and the railroads employed strikebreakers to fill three-fourths of the roughly 400,000 vacated positions, increasing hostilities between the railroads and the striking workers.
On September 1, a federal judge issued the sweeping "Daugherty Injunction" against striking, assembling, and picketing. Unions bitterly resented the injunction; a few sympathy strikes shut down some railroads completely. The strike eventually died out as many shopmen made deals with the railroads on the local level. The often unpalatable concessions—coupled with memories of the violence and tension during the strike—soured relations between the railroads and the shopmen for years.
ORGANIZED LABOR 1929–1955
Open battle between striking teamsters armed with pipes and the
police in the streets of
THE GREAT DEPRESSION AND ORGANIZED LABOR
The stock market crashed in October 1929, and ushered in the Great Depression . By the winter of 1932–33, the economy was so perilous that the unemployment rate hit the 25 percent mark. Unions lost members during this time because laborers could not afford to pay their dues and furthermore, numerous strikes against wage cuts left the unions impoverished: "one might have expected a reincarnation of organizations seeking to overthrow the capitalistic system that was now performing so poorly. Some workers did indeed turn to such radical movements as the Communist Party, but, in general, the nation seemed to have been shocked into inaction".
Though unions were not acting yet, cities across the nation witnessed local and spontaneous marches by frustrated relief applicants. In March 1930, hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers marched through New York City, Detroit, Washington, San Francisco and other cities in a mass protest organized by the Communist Party's Unemployed Councils . In 1931, more than 400 relief protests erupted in Chicago and that number grew to 550 in 1932.
The leadership behind these organizations often came from radical groups like Communist and Socialist parties, who wanted to organize "unfocused neighborhood militancy into organized popular defense organizations".
THE NORRIS-LA GUARDIA ANTI-INJUNCTION ACT OF 1932
Organized labor became more active in 1932, with the passage of the
Norris-La Guardia Act. On March 23, 1932, Republican President Herbert
Hoover signed the
Norris-La Guardia Act , marking the first of many
pro-union bills that Washington would pass in the 1930s. Also known
as the Anti-
The passage of the
Norris-La Guardia Act signified a victory for the
American Federation of Labor
FDR AND THE NATIONAL INDUSTRIAL RECOVERY ACT
Franklin D. Roosevelt
This portion, which was known as Section 7(a), was symbolic to workers in the United States because it stripped employers of their rights to either coerce them or refuse to bargain with them. While no power of enforcement was written into the law, it "recognized the rights of the industrial working class in the United States".
National Industrial Recovery Act
In response to both the Norris-La Guardia Act and the NIRA, workers who were previously unorganized in a number of industries—such as rubber workers, oil and gas workers and service workers—began to look for organizations that would allow them to band together. The NIRA strengthened workers' resolve to unionize and instead of participating in unemployment or hunger marches, they started to participate in strikes for union recognition in various industries". In 1933, the number of work stoppages jumped to 1,695, double its figure from 1932. In 1934, 1,865 strikes occurred, involving more than 1.4 million workers.
The elections of 1934 might have reflected the "radical upheaval
sweeping the country", as Roosevelt won the greatest majority either
party ever held in the Senate and 322 Democrats won seats in the
United States House of Representatives
Despite the impact of such changes on the United States' political structure and on workers' empowerment, some scholars have criticized the impacts of these policies from a classical economic perspective. Cole and Ohanian (2004) find that the New Deal's pro-labor policies are an important factor in explaining the weak recovery from the Great Depression and the rise in real wages in some industrial sectors during this time.
THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR: CRAFT UNIONISM VS. INDUSTRIAL UNIONISM
The AFL was growing rapidly, from 2.1 million members in 1933 to 3.4
million in 1936. But it was experiencing severe internal stresses
regarding how to organize new members. Traditionally, the AFL
organized unions by craft rather than industry, where electricians or
stationary engineers would form their own skill-oriented unions,
rather than join a large automobile-making union. Most AFL leaders,
including president William Green , were reluctant to shift from the
organization's longstanding craft unionism and started to clash with
other leaders within the organization, such as
John L. Lewis
The issue came up at the annual AFL convention in San Francisco in 1934 and 1935, but the majority voted against a shift to industrial unionism both years. After the defeat at the 1935 convention, nine leaders from the industrial faction led by Lewis met and organized the Committee for Industrial Organization within the AFL to "encourage and promote organization of workers in the mass production industries" for "educational and advisory" functions.
The CIO, which later changed its name to the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), formed unions with the hope of bringing them into the AFL, but the AFL refused to extend full membership privileges to CIO unions. In 1938, the AFL expelled the CIO and its million members, and they formed a rival federation. The two federations fought it out for membership; while both supported Roosevelt and the New Deal, the CIO was further to the left, while the AFL had close ties to the big city machines.
JOHN L. LEWIS AND THE CIO
John L. Lewis
Lewis threw his support behind
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Lewis expanded his base by organizing the so-called "captive mines",
those held by the steel producers such as
Lewis was the first president of the Committee of Industrial
Organizations. Lewis, in fact, was the CIO: his UMWA provided the
great bulk of the financial resources that the CIO poured into
organizing drives by the
United Automobile Workers
The most dramatic success was the 1936-7 sit-down strike that paralyzed General Motors. It enabled CIO unionization of GM and the main automobile firms (except Ford, which held out for a few years). However it had negative ramifications, as the Gallup Poll reported, "More than anything else the use of the sit-down strike alienated the sympathies of the middle classes".
The CIO's actual membership (as opposed to publicity figures) was 2,850,000 for February 1942. This included 537,000 members of the auto workers (UAW), nearly 500,000 Steel Workers, almost 300,000 members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, about 180,000 Electrical Workers, and about 100,000 Rubber Workers. The CIO also included 550,000 members of the United Mine Workers, which did not formally withdraw from the CIO until later in the year. The remaining membership of 700,000 was scattered among thirty-odd smaller unions.
Historians of the union movement in the 1930s have tried to explain its remarkable success in terms of the rank and file—what motivated them to suddenly rally around leaders (such as John L. Lewis) who had been around for decades with little success. Why was the militancy of the mid-1930s so short lived?
UPSURGE IN WORLD WAR II
The war mobilization dramatically expanded union membership, from 8.7 million in 1940 to over 14.3 million in 1945, about 36% of the work force. For the first time large numbers of women factory workers were enrolled. Both the AFL and CIO supported Roosevelt in 1940 and 1944, with 75% or more of their votes, millions of dollars, and tens of thousands of precinct workers.
However, Lewis opposed Roosevelt on foreign policy grounds in 1940.
He took the Mine Workers out of the CIO and rejoined the AFL. All
labor unions strongly supported the war effort after June 1941 (when
Germany invaded the Soviet Union). Left-wing activists crushed wildcat
strikes. Nonetheless, Lewis realized that he had enormous leverage. In
1943, the middle of the war, when the rest of labor was observing a
policy against strikes, Lewis led the miners out on a twelve-day
strike for higher wages. The bipartisan
Conservative coalition in
Congress passed anti-union legislation over liberal opposition, most
A statistical analysis of the AFL and CIO national and local leaders in 1945 shows that opportunity for advancement in the labor movement was wide open. In contrast with other elites, the labor leaders did not come from established WASP families with rich, well-educated backgrounds. Indeed, they closely resembled the overall national population of adult men, with fewer from the South and from farm backgrounds. The union leaders were heavily Democratic. The newer CIO had a younger leadership, and one more involved with third parties, and less involved with local civic activities. Otherwise the AFL and CIO leaders were quite similar in background.
WALTER REUTHER AND UAW
Flint Sit-Down Strike
He was one of the most articulate and energetic leaders of the CIO, and of the merged AFL-CIO . Using brilliant negotiating tactics he leveraged high profits for the Big Three automakers into higher wages and superior benefits for UAW members.
PAC AND POLITICS OF 1940S
New enemies appeared for the labor unions after 1935. Newspaper
Strike Wave Of 1945
With the end of the war in August 1945 came a wave of major strikes , mostly led by the CIO. In November, the UAW sent their 180,000 GM workers to the picket lines; they were joined in January 1946 by a half-million steelworkers, as well as over 200,000 electrical workers and 150,000 packinghouse workers. Combined with many smaller strikes a new record of strike activity was set.
The results were mixed, with the unions making some gains, but the economy was disordered by the rapid termination of war contracts, the complex reconversion to peacetime production, the return to the labor force of 12 million servicemen, and the return home of millions of women workers. The conservative control of Congress blocked liberal legislation, and " Operation Dixie ", the CIO's efforts to expand massively into the South, failed.
The Republicans exploited public anger at the unions in 1946, winning a smashing landslide. Labor responded afterwards by taking strong actions. The CIO systematically purged communists and far-left sympathizers from leadership roles in its unions. The CIO expelled some unions that resisted the purge, notably its third-largest affiliate the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), and set up a new rival union to take away the UE membership.
Meanwhile, the AFL in 1947 set up its first explicitly political
unit, Labor's League for Political Education. The AFL increasingly
abandoned its historic tradition of nonpartisanship, since neutrality
between the major parties was impossible. By 1952, the AFL had given
up on decentralization, local autonomy, and non-partisanship, and had
developed instead a new political approach marked by the same style of
centralization, national coordination, and partisan alliances that
characterized the CIO. After these moves, the CIO and AFL were in a
good position to fight off Henry Wallace in 1948 and work
enthusiastically for Truman's reelection. The CIO and AFL no longer
had major points of conflict, so they merged in amicably 1955 as the
Further information: Labor Management Relations Act of 1947
Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 , also known as the
Taft–Hartley Act, in 1947 revised the
Wagner Act to include
restrictions on unions as well as management. It was a response to
public demands for action after the wartime coal strikes and the
postwar strikes in steel, autos and other industries that were
perceived to have damaged the economy, as well as a threatened 1946
railroad strike that was called off at the last minute before it shut
down the national economy. The Act was bitterly fought by unions,
vetoed by President
Harry S. Truman
The Act was sponsored by Senator
Robert A. Taft
The Act outlawed closed shops , which were contractual agreements
that required an employer to hire only union members. Union shops , in
which new recruits must join the union within a certain amount of
time, are permitted, but only as part of a collective bargaining
agreement and only if the contract allows the worker at least thirty
days after the date of hire or the effective date of the contract to
join the union. The
National Labor Relations Board
The amendments also authorized individual states to outlaw union
security clauses entirely in their jurisdictions by passing
"right-to-work" laws . Currently all of the states in the Deep South
and a number of traditionally Republican states in the Midwest ,
The amendments required unions and employers to give sixty days' notice before they may undertake strikes or other forms of economic action in pursuit of a new collective bargaining agreement; it did not, on the other hand, impose any "cooling-off period" after a contract expired. Although the Act also authorized the President to intervene in strikes or potential strikes that create a national emergency, the President has used that power less and less frequently in each succeeding decade.
Historian James T. Patterson concludes that: By the 1950s most observers agreed that Taft-Hartley was no more disastrous for workers than the Wagner Act had been for employers. What ordinarily mattered most in labor relations was not government laws such as Taft-Hartley, but the relative power of unions and management in the economic marketplace. Where unions were strong they usually managed all right; when they were weak, new laws did them little additional harm.
The AFL had always opposed Communists inside the labor movement.
After 1945 they took their crusade worldwide. The CIO had major
Communist elements who played a key role in organizational work in the
late 1930s and war years. By 1949 they were purged. The AFL and CIO
strongly supported the Cold War policies of the Truman administration,
As a leader of the anti-Communist center-left, Reuther was a founder
of the liberal umbrella group
Americans for Democratic Action in 1947.
In 1949 he led the CIO delegation to the London conference that set up
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in opposition to
World Federation of Trade Unions
Richard D. Wolff
UNIONS SINCE 1955
Labor's share of GDP has declined 1970 to 2013, measured based
on total compensation as well as salaries by 2012, the proportion was
11%, constituting roughly 5% in the private sector and 40% in the
public sector. Organized labor's influence steadily waned and workers'
collective voice in the political process has weakened. Partly as a
result, wages have stagnated and income inequality has increased.
National Labor Relations Act
By the 1970s, a rapidly increasing flow of imports (such as automobiles, steel and electronics from Germany and Japan, and clothing and shoes from Asia) undercut American producers. By the 1980s there was a large-scale shift in employment with fewer workers in high-wage sectors and more in the low-wage sectors. Many companies closed or moved factories to Southern states (where unions were weak). The effectiveness of strikes declined sharply, as companies after the 1970s threatened to close down factories or move them to low-wage states or to foreign countries. The number of major work stoppages fell by 97% from 381 in 1970 to 187 in 1980 to only 11 in 2010. The accumulating weaknesses were exposed when President Ronald Reagan—a former union president—broke the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike in 1981, dealing a major blow to unions.
Union membership among workers in private industry shrank dramatically, though after 1970 there was growth in employees unions of federal, state and local governments. The intellectual mood in the 1970s and 1980s favored deregulation and free competition. Numerous industries were deregulated, including airlines, trucking, railroads and telephones, over the objections of the unions involved.
Republicans, using conservative think tanks as idea farms, began to push through legislative blueprints to curb the power of public employee unions as well as eliminate business regulations.
Union weakness in the
Southern United States
AFL AND CIO MERGER 1955
The friendly merger of the AFL and CIO marked an end not only to the acrimony and jurisdictional conflicts between the coalitions, it also signaled the end of the era of experimentation and expansion that began in the mid 1930s. Merger became politically possible because of the deaths of Green of the AFL and Murray of the CIO in late 1952, replaced by George Meany and Reuther. The CIO was no longer the radical dynamo, and was no longer a threat in terms of membership for the AFL had twice as many members.
Furthermore, the AFL was doing a better job of expanding into the fast-growing white collar sector, with its organizations of clerks, public employees, teachers, and service workers. Although the AFL building trades maintained all-white policies, the AFL had more black members in all as the CIO. The problem of union corruption was growing in public awareness, and CIO's industrial unions were less vulnerable to penetration by criminal elements than were the AFL's trucking, longshoring, building, and entertainment unions. But Meany had a strong record in fighting corruption in New York unions, and was highly critical of the notoriously corrupt Teamsters.
Unification would help the central organization fight corruption, yet
would not contaminate the CIO unions. The defeat of the
Labor unions were a whole high-profile target of Republican activists
throughout the 1940s and 1950s, especially the
CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
The UAW under Reuther played a major role in funding and supporting
Civil Rights Movement
UNITED FARM WORKERS, 1960´S
Hispanics comprise a large fraction of the farm labor force, but
there was little successful unionization before the arrival in the
Cesar Chavez (1927–1993), who mobilized California workers
United Farm Workers
Successes of the UFW include: (1.) securing a three-year contract
with grape growers; (2.) securing another 3-year contract with Minute
Maid for 55,000 workers; (3.) securing, with political allies, as the
result of continuing strikes, an Agricultural Relations Board, after
much conflict and union-busting by the
Nationwide unions have been seeking opportunities to enroll Hispanic members. Much of their limited success has been in the hotel industry.
REAGAN ERA, 1980´S
Cloud argues, "the emblematic moment of the period from 1955 through the 1980s in American labor was the tragic PATCO strike in 1981." Most unions were strongly opposed to Reagan in the 1980 presidential election , despite the fact that Reagan remains the only union leader (or even member) to become President. On August 3, 1981, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) union —which had supported Reagan—rejected the government's pay raise offer and sent its 16,000 members out on strike to shut down the nation's commercial airlines. They demanded a reduction in the workweek to 32 from 40 hours, a $10,000 bonus, pay raises up to 40%, and early retirement.
Federal law forbade such a strike, and the Transportation department implemented a backup plan (of supervisors and military air controllers) to keep the system running. The strikers were given 48 hours to return to work, else they would be fired and banned from ever again working in a federal capacity. A fourth of the strikers came back to work, but 13,000 did not. The strike collapsed, PATCO vanished, and the union movement as a whole suffered a major reversal, which accelerated the decline of membership across the board in the private sector.
Schulman and Zelizer argue that the breaking of PATCO, "sent shock waves through the entire U.S. labor relations regime.... strike rates plummeted, and union power sharply declined." Unions suffered a continual decline of power during the Reagan administration, with a concomitant effect on wages. The average first-year raise (for 1000-plus–worker contracts) fell from 9.8% to 1.2%; in manufacturing, raises fell from 7.2% to negative 1.2%. Salaries of unionized workers also fell relative to non-union workers. Women and blacks suffered more from these trends. Union cash advantage 2014
DECLINE OF PRIVATE SECTOR UNIONS
By 2011 fewer than 7% of employees in the private sector belonged to unions. The UAW's numbers of automobile union members are representative of the manufacturing sector: 1,619,000 active members in 1970, 1,446,000 in 1980, 952,000 in 1990, 623,000 in 2004, and 377,000 in 2010 (with far more retired than active members).
By 2014, coal mining had largely shifted to open-pit mines in Wyoming, and there were only 60,000 active coal miners. The UMW has 35,000 members, of whom 20,000 were coal miners, chiefly in underground mines in Kentucky and West Virginia. By contrast it had 800,000 members in the late 1930s. However it remains responsible for pensions and medical benefits for 40,000 retired miners, and for 50,000 spouses and dependents.
Main article: Public-sector trade unions in the United States
Labor unions generally ignored government employees because they were controlled mostly by the patronage system used by the political parties before the arrival of civil service. Post Office workers did form unions. The National Association of Letter Carriers started in 1889 and grew quickly. By the mid-1960s it had 175,000 members in 6,400 local branches.
Several competing organizations of postal clerks emerged starting in
the 1890s. Merger discussions dragged on for years, until finally the
NFPOC, UNMAPOC and others merged in 1961 as the United Federation of
Postal Clerks. Another round of mergers in 1971 produced the American
Postal Workers Union (APWU). In 2012 the APWU had 330,000 members.
The various postal unions did not engage in strikes. Main article:
Historian Joseph Slater, says, "Unfortunately for public sector
unions, the most searing and enduring image of their history in the
first half of the twentieth century was the
The police strike chilled union interest in the public sector in the
1920s. The major exception was the emergence of unions of public
school teachers in the largest cities; they formed the American
Federation of Teachers (AFT), affiliated with the AFL. In suburbs and
small cities, the
National Education Association
NEW DEAL ERA
In the mid 1930s efforts were made to unionize WPA workers, but were opposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Moe points out that Roosevelt, "an ardent supporter of collective bargaining in the private sector, was opposed to it in the public sector." Roosevelt in 1937 told the nation what the position of his government was: "All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.... The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations.
"LITTLE NEW DEAL" ERA
Change came in the 1950s. In 1958 New York mayor Robert Wagner, Jr. issued an executive order, called "the little Wagner Act," giving city employees certain bargaining rights, and gave their unions with exclusive representation (that is, the unions alone were legally authorized to speak for all city workers, regardless of whether or not some workers were members.) Management complained but the unions had power in city politics.
By the 1960s and 1970s public-sector unions expanded rapidly to cover
teachers, clerks, firemen, police, prison guards and others. In 1962,
After 1960 public sector unions grew rapidly and secured good wages and high pensions for their members. While manufacturing and farming steadily declined, state- and local-government employment quadrupled from 4 million workers in 1950 to 12 million in 1976 and 16.6 million in 2009.
In 2009 the U.S. membership of public sector unions surpassed membership of private sector unions for the first time, at 7.9 million and 7.4 million respectively.
In 2011 states faced a growing fiscal crisis and the Republicans had made major gains in the 2010 elections. Public sector unions came under heavy attack especially in Wisconsin , as well as Indiana, New Jersey and Ohio from conservative Republican legislatures. Conservative state legislatures tried to drastically reduce the abilities of unions to collectively bargain. Conservatives argued that public unions were too powerful since they helped elect their bosses, and that overly generous pension systems were too heavy a drain on state budgets.
* Organized labour portal
American Federation of Labor
* ^ Robin Archer, Why Is There No Labor Party in the United States?
(Princeton University Press, 2007)
E. J. Dionne , "When unions mattered, prosperity was shared",
Washington Post, 6 September 2010
* ^ Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle, eds. The Rise and Fall of the
* ^ Paul Michel Taillon, Good, Reliable, White Men: Railroad
Brotherhoods, 1877–1917 (University of Illinois Press, 2009).
* ^ A B Weir, Robert E. (2006). Beyond Labor\'s Veil: The Culture
of the Knights of Labor. University Park, PA: Penn State University
Press. ISBN 978-0-271-01498-2 .
* ^ Theresa Ann Case, The Great Southwest Railroad Strike and Free
Labor (2010) pp. 1–2
* ^ James R. Green, Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the
First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided
For a more detailed guide, see Labor unions in the United States/References .
* Arnesen, Eric, ed. Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-Class History (2006), 2064pp; 650 articles by experts excerpt and text search * Beik, Millie, ed. Labor Relations: Major Issues in American History (2005) over 100 annotated primary documents excerpt and text search * Boone, Graham. "Labor law highlights, 1915–2015." Monthly Labor Review (2015). online * Boris, Eileen, Nelson Lichtenstein, and Thomas Paterson, eds. Major Problems In The History Of American Workers: Documents and Essays (2002); primary and secondary sources. * Brody, David. In Labor's Cause: Main Themes on the History of the American Worker (1993) excerpt and text search * Commons, John R. and Associates. History of Labour In The United States. (4 vol. 1921–1957), highly detailed classic to 1920. * Dubofsky, Melvyn. Labor Leaders in America (1987). * Dubofsky, Melvyn, and Foster Rhea Dulles. Labor in America: A History (8th ed. 2010) * Fink, Gary M., ed. Labor Unions (Greenwood Press, 1977) * Lichtenstein, Nelson (2003). State of the Union: A Century of American Labor. * Taylor, Paul F. The ABC-CLIO Companion To The American Labor Movement (ABC-CLIO, 1993), an encyclopedia * Zieger, Robert H., and Gilbert J. Gall. American Workers, American Unions: The Twentieth Century (2002).
* Archer, Robin (2007). Why Is There No Labor Party in the United
States?. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
* Arnold, Andrew B. Fueling the Gilded Age: Railroads, Miners, and
* Barrett, James R. "Making and Unmaking the Working Class: E.P. Thompson and the 'New Labor History' in the United States." Historical Reflections 41#1 (2015). * McCoy, Austin. "Bringing the social back: rethinking the declension narrative of twentieth-century US labour history." Social History 41.1 (2016): 1-13. * Mapes, Kathleen, and Randi Storch. "The Making and Remaking of a Labor Historian: Interview with James R. Barrett." Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas 13.2 (2016): 63-79. * Tomlins, Christopher. "The State, the Unions, and the critical synthesis in labor law history: a 25-year retrospect." Labor History 54#2 (2013): 208-221. * Walkowitz, Daniel J., and Donna T. Haverty-Stacke, eds. Rethinking U.S. Labor History: Essays on the Working-Class Experience, 1756-2009 (2010)
* Rees, Jonathan, and Z. S. Pollack, eds. The Voice of the People:
Primary Sources on the History of American Labor, Industrial
Relations, and Working-Class Culture (2004), 264pp
* Gompers, Samuel. Seventy Years of Life and Labor (1925, 1985
* Gompers, Samuel. The
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