20th Century – 1st Half
"Champion of Labor."
Theodore Roosevelt is erroneously seen as champion of labor for his
role in settling the violent and bitter anthracite coal strike of
1902 by forcing company hard liner George Bear to settle with the
union. The workers win only the restoration of cut wages.
Roosevelt's motivation is the need of coal by industries and for
home heating, not the workers' cause.
World War I.
U.S. is very prosperous but unions are very weak. There is large
migration from farms in the South to cities in the North, hoping for
a better life. Blacks move into white areas, competing for jobs,
and sometimes are used as strikebreakers.
Union organizing expected to be better in prosperous times and
harder in the Depression, yet the 1930s sees great advances in labor
unions. Factors include the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt whose
earlier efforts to help business are rebuffed, then in 1935 he turns
to the working poor. New legislation include a progressive income
tax and social security insurance.
Wagner Act (National Labor Relations Act)
establishes workers the right to a union of their own choice,
requires companies to bargain in good faith, ushering in a period of
successful union growth.
formed for industrial workers nationally, headed by John L. Lewis
from the Coal Miners' Union.
and steel industry resistance.
Henry Ford is fanatically anti-labor union, applies harsh methods to
break strike. The union uses tactic of the sit-down strike,
occupying factories and preventing production. Auto companies
settle and sign contracts with the auto unions. Main motivation is
fear of damage to machines in factories.
Republic Steel strike of 1937.
Workers on strike are having peaceful holiday
picnic with families when police appear and shoot into the crowd.
This is recorded and shown in newsreels across the country causing
negative public opinion, and becomes a major labor victory.
of Communist Party
the labor movement in the 1930s. In the excitement of the Russian
Revolution some are blind to Stalin's brutal rule in the USSR in the
1930s. Communists are disciplined, dedicated, are effective labor
organizers in labor's ranks, and are accepted by non-communist labor
minimum wage law
1938 shocked the nation because of the huge numbers of workers whose
wages more than doubled as a result. Federal agencies are created
to promote employment for skilled workers, for unskilled industrial
workers, for the creative professions, and for teenagers.
War II ends the Depression.
Maynard Keynes' dictum that jobs is the answer because workers
become consumers, the bottom-up theory of economics. Full
employment follows business' confidence in a war economy.
War II advances civil rights
for blacks and women by opening many new job areas for them. After
the war they resist efforts to return them to pre-war status,
leading to civil rights movements.
20th Century – 2nd Half
of the Cold War.
Republican congress under Democrat President Truman passes the
Taft-Harley Bill which rolls back some labor gains from the Wagner
Act. It especially excludes communists from union leadership, aimed
at effective union organizers. War economy
continues, with high prosperity in the 1940s and 1950s. AFL and CIO
unions merge in mid-1950s under leadership of George Meany.
away from the Northeast and the upper Midwest which have the most
successful labor contracts. The shift is to the South and Southwest
where unions are less effective. Legislators resist raising minimum
Wages in relation to the cost of living over the last 35 years
Although industry automation is greatly increased, work time has not
decreased but actually increased approximately 1 month per year on
Gender and race issues.
Men resist women in the workforce, possibly lowering the wage scale,
still clinging to the idea of the man as the breadwinner, a concept
irreversibly changed by the Depression and World War II. From the
1960s on, it is unrealistic to expect a single wage earner to
maintain a middle class family life. Also women now expect the
right to choose.
of labor movement today.
Labor is now weak in the U.S. Only 10-20% of workforce is
unionized. Anti-union efforts of companies are very effective.
Workers' gains in wages and benefits are lost as givebacks as the
price for keeping a job if the company will move elsewhere or hire
younger workers in the same area at lower wages. The global economy
is part of this issue. Companies are concerned with their bottom
line not national loyalty.
are not realistic. Not counted as unemployed are those whose
unemployment benefits have run out, and the part-time employed.
Fears of lower wage scale. Belief that immigrants will do work
American workers do not want to do. Belief that business needs them
for cheap labor.
nature of jobs.
In the post-industrial age industrial jobs have moved overseas to
areas with low labor costs and weak pollution laws. When the
factory moves, no longer is there the tradition of a son moving into
his father's job. The son must look elsewhere. Increased service
economy but mostly low paying with little expectation of
Some are dedicated to the rank & file, others are corrupt, close to
management, with potential violence against reformers. Pension
plans are insecure. Workers are at considerable risk of losing
their jobs, psychologically insecure, with the prospect of becoming
destitute close at hand. The struggles for gains in the past come
to today's uncertainty for labor's future.