Alyssa Barker Sharon Kelly English 102 Section 401 November 24, 2012
Does America Need Labor Unions Today?
President John F. Kennedy once said, “The American Labor Movement has consistently demonstrated its devotion to the public interest. It is, and has been, good for all Americans.” Organized labor has a goal of helping workers get what they deserve in all aspects of their jobs such as salary, benefits, hours, working conditions, and so on. There are many criticisms of unionization but with the economy in the depressed state it is in now, it is important to identify ways to help stimulate its growth and unions will do just that. Essentially, labor unions are beneficial to the American economy because they strengthen the middle class and increase productivity. Trade unions have existed in some form from the beginning of colonial America. In these times, guilds were forming based off of the European guild system but these never really took off in America (Reynolds). The first recorded strike was conducted by the Philadelphia printers in 1786 over the demand for a minimum wage (Reynolds). Organized labor began to grow rapidly in the late 1800s with the foundation of the national trade union known as the American Federation of Labor (Reynolds). This organization set the stage for many other unions to come. Throughout the history of unions, some strikes and organized protests have turned into violent and deadly riots. An example of this is the infamous Haymarket Square riots in Chicago, IL in 1886. In this riot, members of the Knights of Labor united to fight for an eight-hour workday. The demonstration turned deadly when a bomb killed several police officers and gun fire killed and wounded several protesters and civilians. Many people left the Knights of Labor after this event to join a more moderate union but unions in general began to get the reputation of being violent and causing trouble. This bad reputation is one reason that union membership has been steadily declining. Opponents of unions often argue that unions are violent and are a bad influence on its members and society. Some violent events have given unions a bad reputation. Union involvement has dropped by 50 percent over the past 20 years (Prah). In the 1950s, labor unions represented about 1 in 3 American workers but today it is less than 1 in 8 (Prah). In 2011, the Gallup Poll released the results of a survey conducted among Americans concerning the approval or disapproval of unions. 38 percent of Americans had negative things to say about unions while 17 percent were neutral and 34 percent were positive (Newport & Saad). This has changed significantly from just the year before when 52% of Americans said they approved of unions but still 41 percent said they disapproved (Newport & Saad). This recent negative reaction to organized labor is most likely a response to the events that took place in Wisconsin. The Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker attempted to close state budget deficits by limiting collective bargaining for unions such as the teacher’s union as well as reducing the pay and benefits of union members (Newport & Saad). Many who agree with Walker believe that states shouldn’t allow unions to have a large amount of power. This issue has gotten a lot of press and so the growing disapproval rate has decreased the number of workers involved with unions. Americans were given the right to unionize in 1935 with the National Labor Relations Act of the Wagner Act (Foner & Garraty). This basically put the government on the side of the organized workers to improve the labor laws. This act allowed workers a safer way to join unions if they felt...
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