American Unions: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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Abstract:
In the early days the union was considered a moral establishment, ensuring that workers worked in safe and equitable environments. In today’s society however, where capitalist endeavors dominate, wages and working conditions are already reasonable for the most part, unions are failing. If one examines critically the purpose of unions, many may find their modus of operation outdated, and their strategies unreasonable for the modern marketplace. More and more American workers and employers are recognizing that the benefits of a union do not outweigh the hassle associated with membership.

Table of Contents
History of Unions…………………………………………………………… The Good ………………………………………………………………….. The Bad: Unions in Modern Society…………………………………. The Ugly: The Evils of Corruption…………………………………… Are Unions Anti-American?........................................................................... Conclusion………………………………………………………………. References……………………………………………………………………

History of Unions
The history of the labor union is complex. In times of old the labor union has been defined as “a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining and improving the conditions of their employment” (Peterson, 1945:1). Unions were created out of a desire for protection and advancement of the interests of human kind. In most society there tend to be gatherings of individuals that are interested in promoting common interests and the needs or desires of members. Unions are no exception.

The central motivating force that influenced the shape of unions in America in the early years was a desire to improve the status and working conditions of American wage earners.
The earliest forms of labor unions were groups of skilled “handicraft trade” including carpenters, shoemakers and tailors in the early 1800s (Peterson, 1945). Often labeled “craft societies” these groups worked to bargain over wages, shop conditions and hours (Peterson, 1945). Generally these groups and organizations had local influence only.

At the turn of the 19th century the working conditions in the United States were less than acceptable. 12 to 14 hour workdays seven days per week were not uncommon. Children and adults alike worked side by side often in unsafe working conditions. The industrial revolution resulted in a widespread abuse of labor within this country.

Unions emerged in early times particularly in the early 1800s to provide legal protection to workers who were being exploited by their employers. The first efforts at organization generally focused around specific trades. These ‘trade’ unions often involved groups of craftsmen, guilders, carpenters and similar tradesmen who were struggling for among other things their independence and improved working conditions.

Since their formal inception in the mid 1800s unions have been through many ups and downs. After the civil war in the U.S. many unions came about to combat rising pricings and deficits in pay. Many soldiers also found their jobs had been usurped via machine productions and thus were looking for representations. Craft unions were common in the ten years following the civil war.

As mentioned, unions began to be more formalized during the middle of the 19th century when various tradesmen started joining together to form larger unionized establishments, until the mid 1800s when the Nation Labor Union was formed. Among the first tasks of the union was to reduce the work day to an eight hour workday for government workers. “Trade unions” as they were called supported workers during strikes and worked to provide common support for workers in a more broad ranging respect.

This was followed by other organized groups including the “Knights of Labor” and “American Federation of Labor.” Broad ranging concerns of these unions also included many social reforms including “free public schools, abolition of imprisonment for debt and elimination of property...
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