Labor Unions Are Associations of Workers for Term Paper

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Labor unions are associations of workers for the purpose of improving the economic status and working conditions of the employees through collective bargaining with employers (Union pp). The two general types of unions are the horizontal, or craft, union, which is composed of members who are skilled in a particular craft, such as the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, and the vertical, or industrial, union, which includes workers in the same industry of industries, regardless of skills, such as the United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (Union pp). And a company union is an employer-controlled union that has no affiliation with other outside labor organizations (Union pp).

Essentially, labor unions are the product of the Industrial Revolution, although there were associations of journeymen under the medieval system of guilds (Union pp). After the French Revolution, there were fear of uprisings by the working classes in Great Britain, which led to the passage of the Combination Acts that declared unions illegal (Union pp). The acts were repealed in 1924, however little progress was made in union growth until the 1860's when the miners and textile workers organized and waged a vigorous struggle for legal recognition (Union pp). The Trade Union Act of 1871 guaranteed British labor unions legal recognition, yet it required the additional laws of 1913 and 1915 to assure their status (Union pp). During the late nineteenth century, the socialist movement gained momentum among trade unionists, and in 1893, James Keir Hardie persuaded the trade unions to join forces with the socialists in the Independent Labor party (Union pp). In 1868, the Trades Union Congress was formed and became the central organization of the British trade unions, with the purpose of coordinating and formulating policy on behalf of the entire labor movement (Union pp). Chris Wringly writes that the British trade unions "emerged from the Second World War with both their size and their political and social status enhanced" (Friedman pp). However, union membership was growing rapidly even before the War, with half of the total growth in union membership for the 1935-1945 period coming before 1939 (Friedman pp). Wrigley attributes most of the union growth during the 1930's to pro-union legislation and other state intervention in industrial relations by the National Government (Friedman pp). More than half the international labor institutions are currently run by Brits, and in 2003, John Monks, became the first Englishman to run the European Trade Union Confederation (Taylor pp).

Throughout the European Continent, labor unions developed differently than they did in Great Britain and in the United States (Union pp). The main reason for this was because the European unions organized along industrial rather than along craft lines, and also due to the fact that the unions were engaged in more partisan political activity (Union pp). For example, the printers' and cigar-makers' unions in Germany were started after the uprisings of 1848 and were responsible for much of the social legislation until World War I (Union pp). Labor unions in France were organized during the early nineteenth century, however they did not receive legal recognition until 1884 (Union pp). In the majority of European countries, labor organizations are either political parties or are affiliated with political parties, which are usually left- wing (Union pp). In some European countries, such as Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands, there are rival Christian and Socialist trade union movements (Union pp). Trade unions in Russia first appeared on a considerable scale during the revolution of 1905, however were later stamped out, only to reappear during the 1917 revolution when they became highly organized in a national movement under Communist control (Union pp). From the time of the revolution until the fall of the Communist party in 1991, the trade union movement in the Soviet Union was for the most part an instrument of the state in its drive for higher industrial production (Union pp).

Unionism within the United States is almost as old as the nation itself, and has always existed in some form or another (Union pp). During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, crafts such as printers, carpenters, tailors, and weavers formed local unions to keep up craft standards and to prevent employers from hiring untrained workers and importing foreign labor (Union pp).

Beginning in 1806, there were numerous prosecutions by employers of unions as combinations in restraint of trade, and the early 1830's saw a period of industrial prosperity and inflation which led to increased union development, however the financial Panic of 1837 stunted this growth (Union pp). After the Civil War, the National Labor Union was formed in 1866, and included such objectives as the abolition of convict labor, the establishment of the eight-hour workday, and the restriction of immigration, yet it collapsed when it entered into politics in 1872 (Union pp).

The Knights of Labor, 1869-1917, was among the most important of the early national organizations (Union pp). Its policy of organizing both skilled and unskilled workers brought it into conflict with the established craft unions, who joined together to form the American Federation of Labor, AFL, in the 1890's under Samuel Gompers, thereafter, the Knights declined in numbers and effectiveness (Union pp). In 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World, IWW, arose, which was a large unwieldy militant industrial body that concentrated on unskilled workers such as lumbermen, migrant workers, and miners (Union pp). However with the conviction of many of its leaders under the Espionage Act during and after World War I, membership in the IWW declined and the organization became ineffective in the 1920's (Union pp).

The dawning of the 1930's saw the United States sliding deeper into the Great Depression, as unemployment soared with little help from the federal government, and employed workers began feeling less secure in their own jobs (Grijalva pp). This led to widespread unrest among the working class and provided fertile soil in which the seeds of radicalism could easily be planted, thus many new recruits saw the Communist Party as a way to address particular concerns: "a means of fighting fascism or racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination, of gaining labor-union objectives, general social improvement, or humanitarian socialist goals" (Grijalva pp). While others saw a more transcendent purpose, embracing the vision of the Communist Manifesto in which Karl Marx eloquently stated, "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles" (Grijalva pp).

During the Great Depression of the 1930's, unions experienced a rapid membership growth (Union pp). It was during this time that the Congress of Industrial Organizations, CIO, was formed, which was, in the beginning, made up of dissident unions of the AFL and was led by John L. Lewis (Union pp). During the Franklin Roosevelt administration, steps were taken to restore standards of employment, which were seriously deteriorated, and to facilitate the development of trade union organization (Union pp). These goals were accomplished through the passage of such acts as the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, commonly referred to as the Wagner Act, which enlarged the rights of unions and created the National Labor Relations Board, and by protective labor legislation such as the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and the Social Security Act of 1935 (Union pp). During the 1930's and 1940's, there were often severe conflicts between the AFL and the CIO, thus it was a momentous step when the two labor groups merged to form the AFL-CIO in 1955 (Union pp). The larger of the two organizations, the AFL, was given a proportionate share of the offices of the new federation and unanimously elected George Meany as president of the combined body, and the industrial unions of the CIO were given a department of their own within the merged organization (Union pp).

The AFL-CIO issued a series of ethical practice codes to govern the behavior of union officers and in 1957 expelled the Teamsters for corruption, however during the late 1950's, the entire labor movement was put on the defensive following the disclosures made by the Senate Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field (Union pp). Commonly referred to as the McClellan Committee, the panel exposed such abuses as collusion between dishonest employers and union officials, extortion, the use of violence by segments of labor leadership, and the misuse of funds by high-ranking union officials (Union pp). These findings led to the enactment of the Landrum-Griffin Act to correct abuses within labor-management relations (Union pp).

Unions in the United States have undergone a period of decline since World War II (Union pp). In fact, in 1960, approximately 33% of all American workers belonged to a union, yet by 2003, the proportion had dropped to less than 13% (Union pp). Facing foreign competition and financial troubles in its traditional power base, manufacturing and mining, organized labor was hurt during the 1980's by layoffs and in many cases was forced to accept reduced wages and benefits (Union pp). In response, many unions adopted a more conciliatory attitude…

Sources Used in Document:

Work Cited

Benseddik, Fouad. Labor Unions, Democratic Change and Development.

Retrieved September 09, 2005 from:

Butkiewicz, Jerry. (2005 August). Labor Leader Newsletter. Retrieved September

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