Labor Unions

Labor Unions

Labor unions have a long and colorful history in the United States. To some people, they conjure up thoughts of organized crime and gangsters like Jimmy Hoffa. To others, labor unions represent solidarity among the working classes, bringing people together across many professions to lobby for better rights, wages and benefits. As of 2006, 15.4 million people were union members, and although union membership peaked in 1945 when 35 percent of the nonagricultural workforce were union members, unions are still a powerful influence in the United States (and even more powerful in many other countries). (Silverman, J., 2012) They are also an important and fundamental part of the history of United States commerce and the country’s growth into an economic powerhouse.
Unions began forming in the mid-19th century in response to the social and economic impact of the industrial revolution. National labor unions began to form in the post-Civil War Era. The Knights of Labor emerged as a major force in the late 1880s, but it collapsed because of poor organization, lack of effective leadership, disagreement over goals, and strong opposition from employers and government forces. (Silverman, J., 2012) The American Federation of Labor, founded in 1886 and led by Samuel Gompers until his death in 1924, proved much more durable. It arose as a loose coalition of various local unions. (Silverman, J., 2012) It helped coordinate and support strikes and eventually became a major player in national politics, usually on the side of the Democrats. American labor unions benefitted greatly from the New Deal policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s. (Silverman, J., 2012) The Wagner Act, in particular, legally protected the right of unions to organize. Unions from this point developed increasingly closer ties to the Democratic Party, and are considered a backbone element of the New Deal Coalition. The power and success of labor unions continued to grow after World War II, but faced...

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