The history of Trade Unions throughout the U.S. has been a long and sometimes grisly ordeal. So many of our founding fathers sacrificed their lives for their steadfast belief in the fact that workers deserved an equal footing in the various labor force industries. Some were ridiculed, some even paid with their lives, but the driving force of fairness and equality in the workplace kept the dream alive. It is to these few tenacious souls that we today owe our gratitude and thanks for turning the dream of worker’s rights into the reality that we all enjoy today.
Throughout the 19th century Trade Unions remained relatively insubstantial. Only 2 percent of the total labor force and less than 10 percent of all industrial workers were members of Trade Unions. The Federation of Trades and Labor Unions was formed in 1881 and in 1886 the organization changed its name to the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The first president of the AFL was a man named Samuel Gompers. His tenure ran from 1886-1894 and again from 1896-1924, the year that he died. He held conservative political views and believed that trade unionists should accept the capitalist economic system. This resulted in the formation of a rival, more radical organization in 1905. Representatives of 43 groups, who opposed the AFL’s policies, formed the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). However, membership numbers in this rival union remained small compared to the AFL.
After the First World War, leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World were harassed by the police and suffered legal prosecutions. Two important members, Frank Little and Walter Everett, were lynched. By 1925 membership had declined dramatically.
In 1921 John L. Lewis, leader of the United Mine Workers of America, failed in his attempt to challenge Samuel Gompers for the presidency of the American Federation of Labor. Gompers finally left in 1924 and was replaced by William Green.
It wasn’t until 1932 with the support of most trade unionists, that Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected. As president he appointed Frances Perkins as US Secretary of Labor and Robert Wagner as chairman of the National Recovery Administration. These two were to become a force to be reckoned with and a strong voice in government on behalf of the worker.
Both Perkins and Wagner were known for their sympathy for the trade union movement and in 1933 Wagner introduced a bill to congress to help protect trade unionists from their employers. With Perkins’ support, Wagner’s proposal became the National Labor Relations Act, which created a three-man National Labor Relations Board. This board’s charter was to administer and regulate labor relations in industries engaged in or affecting interstate commerce. This important act established worker’s rights to join trade unions and to bargain collectively with their employers, through representatives of their choosing. Workers were finally protected from their employers and as a result union membership began to grow rapidly.
In 1935 John Lewis joined with the heads of 7 other unions to form the Congress for Industrial Organization (CIO). Lewis became president of the CIO and over the next few years attempted to organize workers in the new mass production industries. His strategy was successful and by 1937 the CIO had more members than the AFL.
In June of 1938, Congress passed The Fair Labor Standards Act. The main objective of this act READ MORE
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