Contributions of Labor Unions in Society

Topics: Trade union, Human rights, Collective bargaining Pages: 10 (3679 words) Published: June 28, 2010
"Come gather round people where-ever you roam and admit that the waters around you have grown and accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone, if your time to you is worth savin' then you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin'!" (Dylan, 88)

These lyrics, which were written by Bob Dylan over thirty years ago, are as applicable today, or even more so, as they were then. I have always considered the song to be about cultural change between generations. Even so, the analogies of the song can apply to various types of change. With the information age, it is quite possible that our lives are changing at an even faster rate than when Bob Dylan penned those lyrics. The result of change is present in the job market. Most people living in the United States realize that manufacturing jobs are being reduced and service jobs are expanding. This might be good news for individuals seeking employment in the service sector. To those in the manufacturing sector it can be and often is devastating news. However, individuals working today have considerably more protection than workers did a hundred years ago. The existence of labor unions has had a substantial contribution to our society and the standard of living of most individuals. However, for the past few decades union membership and influence has declined. There are various explanations for the decline in unionization; one aspect that the explanations have in common is change. Unions have grown into large bureaucracies and at times, have been reluctant to change. Recently there have been signs that unions are changing the way they do business. Labor unions have been beneficial to our society. I will argue that for unions to continue to be beneficial they must strive to receive support from all working individuals, regardless of their occupation or field of employment. Today, employees have protection from being unfairly discharged, and have the right to associate with whomever they choose. If they are laid off, workers are entitled to unemployment compensation. Employees receive overtime pay for working over 40 hours a week. In addition, they have workers compensation for on the job injuries. If an employee is a union member and is laid off, the employee is often entitled to additional benefits. For an UAW member, some of these are, extended health benefits, supplemental unemployment benefits (additional unemployment pay) and clearly defined recall rights. These protections did not always exist. Our ancestors struggled for the protection worker's have today. This struggle cost many workers their lives, not just men but women and children too. In the earlier days of the industrial revolution, there were few laws governing the treatment of workers. It was quite common for the company to own and or control whole towns. They owned the factory or mine, they owned the houses or living quarters, and they owned the stores where workers could buy supplies. Fourteen-hour workdays were common for all workers, men, women, and children. This included many children that were less than ten years old. Individually, workers were powerless to change this situation. Collectively, starting in the form of trade societies, growing to, trade unions then labor unions, changes have been made. After the Civil war, several fundamental changes in our society were taking place. Mass production and the expansion of the railway forever changed the way businesses would operate. "Everything was changing for the postwar worker. He was born into a nation of farmers, independent craftsmen, and small manufacturers, living largely on the countryside. But he came of age in a nation of great capitalists and big factories, massing wage earners in the cities" (Meltzler, 5). Just as there is with most types of change, there were winners and losers. Winners-those who owned the factories, mines, and railways-were able to amass huge fortunes. Losers-those who labored in the...
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