30 November 2014
The rise and fall of labor unions
Labor union is an organized association of workers, in a trade or profession, formed to protect and further their rights and interests. During the industrial revolution in Europe there was a rise in new workers without representation in the workplace. In the 19th century the industrial revolution spread to the United States from Europe, this resulted in the economy shifting to manufacturing from agriculture as an economic importance. American societies were increasing in population as well as experiencing industrial growth. This industrialization brought conflict between businesses and the labor force since mechanized production was replacing household manufacturing. This encouraged workers to seek out labor unions to help defend the workers’ rights. Workers wanted protection against unethical wage cuts, lay-offs and firings. They also wanted to make management change the dangerous working conditions and overly long hours. Most importantly the workers wanted a contract with their business that lasts for a specific amount of time. Workers believed that labor unions could protect the rights of the workers from unjust treatment from the management. Business owners needed a certain amount of flexibility in cutting wages, hiring and firing, and adding extra hours of work or trimming back work hours in order to keep the business successful. Mostly business owners did not want to have to negotiate with their workers and they did not think of their employees as equals. Since this imbalance of power many conflicts would arise between the employers and employees. During these conflicts, employees would retaliate with workplace protests, strikes, industry wide boycotts, massive demonstrations in cities, pressure on Congress, and voting preferences. These conflicts would put a strain on the success and operation of the business, which ultimately hurt the employees and management. These conflicts with employees and management would lead to disagreements over the rate of taxations, the usefulness of labor unions, and government regulation of business. Which businesses would reject, since they wanted low taxes, minimum regulation and no government help for labor unions. The first labor unions were virtually ineffective but represented the needs of the working people for economic and legal protection from their employers. Workers began to realize the overwhelming power that employers held and this resulted in labor unions increasing throughout the country. The first successful labor unions involved workers that had skilled jobs in which they formed city wide labor organizations in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. This labor union encouraged other workers to try and improve their work conditions. The Nation Labor Union of 1866 was able to convince congress to pass eight hour work days for federal workers. Though the Nation Labor Union was not very successful it set a precedent among the American workforce. In 1869 the Knights of Labor focused on employee issues like disapproval to child labor and demands for an eight-hour work days. The Knights of Labor had a membership of nearly 750,000 skilled and unskilled workers. They aimed for unionization of all workers in all industries in order to create new cooperative businesses. The members hoped for improvements in their hours and wages but ended up becoming conflicted within the union between the skilled and unskilled workers. The skilled workers were tired of labor activity, while unskilled workers were easily replaced. The Knights of Labor deteriorated after the Haymarket Square Riots, the members were accused of throwing a bomb that killed police officers, and this produced negative publicity leading to their disbanding. After the dissolution of the Knights of Labor, the American Federation of Labor of 1886 was founded by Samuel Gompers, who expressed the need for a more effective union...
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