This is a brief history of the labor movement in the United States
from the late eighteen hundreds to the present. In 1881 a movement
toward organized labor was beginning to be inforced. A group of
people from a few trades and industries such as carpenters, cigar-
makers, the printers, merchants, and the steel workers met and formed
The Federation of Organized Trades And Labor Unions. Although
it had little power, the organization was defanantly and the side as the
workers. It stated that a eight hour work day was considered a full day
and asked that all affiliated unions include this as part of there law by
May 1, 1886.
Dispite some success it was felt that the organization needed
reorganizing to make it a more effective center for the trade unions.
It was now that the American Federation of Labor came to be.
Gompers was elected president and was a leader in the national
cigar makers union as well. The newly formed American Federation
of Labor (AFL) began to recognize that women should be represented
through organized unions. In 1894 it adapted a resolution that "women
should be organized into trade unions to the end that they may
scientifically and permanently abolish the terrible evils accompanying
their weakend, unorganized state; and we demand that they receive
equal compensation with men for equal services performed."
While 8 hour day strike movement was generally peaceful, there was
some acts of violence that set the labor movement back. The
McCormick Harvester Company in Chicago learned ahead of time of
a planned strike and so locked out all its employees who held union
cards. Because of this fights broke out and police opened fire on the
union members killing four of them. A public rally to protest these
killings at Haymarket Square drew a large crowd. When a bomb went
off, killing seven police officers and wounding fifty more, the police
began to fire into the crowd and several more people were killed and
about two-hundred wounded. This incident set the eight -hour-day
movement back by a few years.
In the early parts of the 20th century, many struggles between
unions and corporations over hard work, unsafe and unhealthy
working conditions for very low wages were surfacing.
One confrontation, that in the end was stoped by a federal court
raised many questions about weather the government could simply
force union workers to return to work though an injunction. It was
the American Railroad Union that boycotted the handaling of
Pullman railroad cars and eventualy went on strike. Federal troops
were sent in to break up the strike and an injunction forced the wokers
back to work. This was becoming a common occurance which became
a legal weapon against union organizing and action.
A sign of better intervention showed during a strike of the United
Mine Workers. The two sides were asked to go to arbitration and
eventualy seteled the strike.
Moving foward to world war 1, the AFL by helping supply the
government with supplies gaind the support of political leaders.
But after the war however the labor movement suffered setbacks.
The postwar depression brought wages down and caused a major
decline in union membership, a loss of about a million members from
the years 1920 to 1923. Many employers made use of the work force`s
desparate state by making workers sign the "yellow dog contract" in
order to get a job. Because this contract prohibited them from joining
a union, membership dropped even further.
Finaly Roosevelt`s efferts to bring the county out of the depression
also helped the labor movement. The National Recovery Administation
included on its statute books the right of unions to exist and negotiate
with employers. The Wagner Act eventually replaced this and set up
many rules for both unions and employers to follow.
Unions continued to grow though the ninteen sixty`s before slowing.
Better working conditions and more employee rights lessed the need
for being part of a union. Due to this union participation has been
declining in recent years.
The labor movement was and still is one of the most important
movements for the growth of our county. It has allowed us to have
more say in the way we can lead our lives and given us more freedom
to act on our thoughts. This ideals are the same basic principles that
this country was founded on as well as the reason for forming this
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