Labor Unions Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 28 December 2016

Labor Unions

In the years of Post-Civil War the United States was on a path of capitalism, big-business, and becoming a Global Force that all countries would begin to recognize as powerful. Though this time period shown progression for industry and for the U.S. economy it also marked a rise of the working class, and of social stratification because the big business owners became richer and more powerful while the poor workers scavenged for jobs to feed their families. Disgusted by the poverty wages they received while the factory owners were reaping enormous profits, workers organized into Labor Unions that agitated for change. Labor Unions were generally successful in organizing workers but not particularly successful in achieving their goals.

Workers in the United States had means to be upset with the factory owners and with the government, which in a way brought workers together because alone they stood no chance of receiving fair pay from their employers. In order to increase profits capitalists sought to neutralize the competition and because a major cost in the production process is labor, reducing this expense can not only lead to greater profits and can then allow the capitalist to use surplus funds to reinvest in the business, making it more efficient and therefore more competitive. Many tactics and methods were used to counteract Labor Unions included: The open shop gave workers a choice as to whether they must join a union if they work in a certain industry, and unions opposed the open shop because it undermined collective bargaining (the source of unions’ effectiveness and strength). Replacement workers who were willing to take the jobs of those on strike and often work for less pay were hired.

The government was used to suppress Labor Union strikes. Blacklists prevents union workers from being hired, workers were required to sign yellow-dog contracts in which they agreed to not join unions, divisions were created within the working class by paying differentiated wages, usually based on race. On the other hand the Labor Unions had used methods, such as, a closed shop which union membership was required. Unions picketed noncompliant businesses in the hope that the public would ally itself with the workers on strike. They slowed down the production process, by sabotaging or working less efficiently, naturally reducing profits. Despite their efforts unionists never gained enough support for their cause and in the end were unable to reach their goals of higher wages, eight-hour workdays, and safer working conditions.

The three major trade unions that were created in the late nineteenth century each had different objectives for workers and for which workers they would include in their Labor Unions. The National Labor Union was the first union to organize workers regardless of their race, gender, and skilled or not skilled workers. NLU only succeeded in winning an eight-hour workday for federal employees and was otherwise very unsuccessful in reaching their goals. The second major union was the Knights of Labor, which had objectives including racial and gender equality, also higher wages, and a shorter workday. The Knights of Labor, although it was able to gather workers and form organized strikes, was disorganized after the Haymarket Affair in 1886.

Workers had organized to protest the treatment at the McCormick Harvester Factory as police were dealing with the rioters an unknown assailant threw a bomb that killed some of the police officers, the government and the general public blamed Labor Unions for the violence which lead to the disbandment of the Knights of Labor. The AFL or American Federation of Labor, under its president Samuel Grompers, was open exclusively to skilled workers, this Labor Union sought to achieve “realistic” goals. These Labor Unions were hardly successful in accomplishing any of their goals, but by at least getting their ideas heard, were able to go down swinging.

In retrospect, the Labor Unions were fighting a battle against the big businesses and the businesses had the power of the entire government and military on their side. The executive, judicial, and legislative branches were all fundamental to the expansion of monopoly capitalism. Although the state government, under the Fourteenth Amendment, found that it was essential to address issues such as work and living conditions. The Court ruled that corporations had the same Fourteenth Amendment rights as citizens. The business was protected from the rulings in cases like: The Sherman Anti-Trust Act (1890), which declared that any combination or condition that is in restraint of trade is illegal.

Monopoly capitalism was preserved while unions that went on strike were served with a court ruling for being in restraint of trade and that in the case of the Pullman Strike of 1894, President Cleveland’s administration, was found illegal and troops were sent to make sure that the strikers did not interfere with the train delivery of the U.S. Mail, also Eugene Debs and other union leaders were jailed for violating the federal injunction. The United States vs. E. C. Knight Company, the pro-business Supreme Court ruled that because E. C. Knight was engaged in manufacturing sugar and not in interstate commerce, it was regulated by state and not federal law. Therefore, it could not be dismantled by the federal government. From these rulings in the Supreme Court the businesses are above the law while the Labor Unions still have very minimum amounts of power and are unable to compete anywhere close with the big businesses of the late nineteenth century.

The Labor Unions of the time created much unrest between the capitalists and their employees because they were able to pull together and create some very organized strikes, but to the business men of the century it was no match because they had the government in their corner backing them up disallowing for the Labor Unions to reach any of their goals. Factory owners were able to employ diabolical methods, as a result the big business owners ruined the NLU, Knights of Labor, and the AFL who sought to only help certain races and genders. The government was corrupt and did not support the interests of its citizens instead was a puppet of the big business owners. Labor Unions were generally successful in bringing together workers, but were not effective in achieving their goals.

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  • University/College: University of California

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  • Date: 28 December 2016

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