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U.S. Labor History 101

A general overview of the history of Unions and Labor movements in the United States, from the 1600's to present day.

David Fernandez

on 21 December 2016

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Transcript of U.S. Labor History 101

U.S. Labor History 101
By: David A. Fernandez, Communications Director Florida AFL-CIO
Who here has taken a labor history course?

How long was it?

Jamestown Settlement

1607: English planters found Jamestown colony and complain about lack of laborers.
Colonial Slavery
1619: Slaves from Africa First imported to the colonies.
Institutionalizing Slavery
1664: First slavery codes begin trend of making African servants slaves for life.
Bacon's Rebellion
1676: Nathaniel Bacon.
The cause of the uprising was a protest against the Native American raids on the frontier.
It was one of the first times in American history that poor whites and poor blacks were united in a cause. This was a fear of the ruling class, and it led to the hardening of racial lines with slavery.
Yo...Man? No Yeoman
Urban Artisans
Half the total population of seacoast cities.
ARTISANS were skilled workers drawn from all levels of society from poor shoemakers and tailors to elite metal workers.
Established guilds, foundation to unions.
Center of Revolutionary movement.
Like yeomen farmers, artisans also saw themselves as central figures in a republican order where their physical skill and knowledge of a specialized craft provided them with the personal independence and hard-working virtue to be good citizens.
Yeoman farmers were farmers who owned or leased their farm and could do as they pleased on the land , grow what they wanted to grow, sell what they wanted to sell.
Relied upon other farmers, specialized craftsman, and merchants to provide tools, process their harvests, and bring them to market
The creation of the United States of America coincided with a time of reassessing the concept of farming was taking on a new, elevated status in the minds of the day. This notion of the noble cultivator became a part of the foundation of the new democracy. The yoeman became a feature in American politics very early.
The American yeoman farmer had become a symbol of the Agrarian philosophy articulated by Thomas Jefferson.

Revolutionary Laborers
Got to Start Somewhere...
Workers played a significant role in the struggle for independence:
Carpenters disguised as Mohawk Indians were the "host" group at the Boston Tea Party in 1773.
The Continental Congress met in Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia, and there the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.
In "pursuit of happiness" through shorter hours and higher pay:
Printers Strike in New York in 1794.
Cabinet makers struck in 1796
Carpenters in Philadelphia in 1797
Cordwainers in 1799.
In the early years of the 19th century, recorded efforts by unions to improve the workers' conditions, through either negotiation or strike action, became more frequent.
Began before the 1800's.
Technological and economic progress gained movement with the development of steam powered ships and railways.
Began an era of per-capita economic growth in capitalist economies.
Scientific management:
Started in the later 1800's with the objective of improving labor productivity.
Created a structure to the workplace with a high level of managerial control over employee work practices.
By the 1820s, various unions involved in the effort to reduce the working day from 12 to 10 hours began to show interest in the idea of federation-of joining together in pursuit of common objectives for working people.
Starting in the 1830s and accelerating rapidly during the Civil War, the factory system accounted for an ever-growing share of American production. It also produced great wealth for a few, grinding poverty for many.
Reflected the need of working people for economic and legal protection from exploiting employers.
January 1, 1835
A general strike in Philadelphia wins a ten-hour workday.
Initial Federations
National Trades Union
Formed in 1834 by workers in five cities.
An early attempt at countrywide federation-but the financial panic of 1837 put an end to its efforts.
National Labor Union
Established in 1866.
Led by William H. Sylvis.
Several national associations of unions functioning in one trade-printers, machinists, stone cutters, to name a few-sent delegates to a Baltimore meeting.
Never very strong, it was a casualty of the sweeping economic depression of 1873.
Knights of Labor
Established in 1869.
Open membership.
The Knights achieved a membership of nearly 750,000 during the next few years.
However frustration grew:
Vague organizational structure.
Aversion to strikes against employers.
Promised future social gains, but put little effort into union operation.
Set the state for a practical practical labor federation which could combine long range objectives of a better society with the practical activity of day-to-day union functions.
Civil War and Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln takes office as president and Civil War begins.

Executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863.
Proclaimed the freedom of slaves in the ten states that were still in rebellion, thus applying to 3.1 million of the 4 million slaves in the U.S. at the time.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime.
Though the amendment formally abolished slavery throughout the United States, factors such as Black Codes, white supremacist violence, and selective enforcement of statutes continued to subject some black Americans to involuntary labor, particularly in the South.
The Chinese Exclusion (1882) Act excluded Chinese "skilled and unskilled laborers and Chinese employed in mining" from entering the country for ten years under penalty of imprisonment and deportation.
The Act made Chinese immigrants permanent aliens by excluding them from U.S. citizenship.
AFL supports it.

Sometimes referred to as the Great Upheaval, began on July 14 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, United States and ended some 45 days later, after it was put down by local and state militias, and federal troops.
Labor unions were NOT involved; these were spontaneous outbreaks in numerous cities of violence against railroads.
The Great Railroad Strike of 1877
The AFL was founded in Columbus, Ohio in 1886 by Samuel Gompers as a reorganization of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions.

Unlike the Knights, it limits membership to unions representing only workers.
President Samuel Gompers.
The new AFL, with its 300,000 members in 25 unions, came on the national scene in a time of discord and struggle.
The AFL stressed foremost the concern with working conditions, pay and control over jobs, relegating political goals to a minor role.
The AFL also taught union members to "place their own craft interests before those of other workers."

The AFL saw the capitalist system as the path to betterment of labor.
The AFL adopted "business unionism", the philosophy that unions could become stronger by emulating corporations which favored pursuit of workers' immediate demands, rather than challenging the rights of owners under capitalism.

The AFL sold itself to employers as "the conservative alternative to working class radicalism."
As a federation of the most skilled workers, and therefore the best paid workers, the AFL came to identify its own interests closely with the interests of the American system.

Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W Wobblies)
Founded on January 1, 1905.
Lead by Eugene Debs.
At its peak in 1923, the organization claimed some 100,000 members in good standing and could marshal the support of perhaps 300,000 workers.
Its membership declined dramatically after severe government repression as part of the first Red Scare and a 1924 split brought on by internal conflict.
The New York Shirtwaist Strike
The New York shirtwaist strike of 1909, also known as the Uprising of the 20,000.
Labor strike primarily involving Jewish women working in New York shirtwaist factories.
Led by Clara Lemlich (ILGWU) and supported by the National Women's Trade Union League of America (NWTUL), the strike began in November 1909.
In February 1910, the NWTUL settled with the factory owners, gaining improved wages, working conditions, and hours.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history.
It was also the second deadliest disaster in New York City – after the burning of the General Slocum on June 15, 1904 – until the destruction of the World Trade Center 90 years later. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling to their deaths.
Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three; the oldest victim was 48, the youngest was 11 year old Mary Goldstien.
World War I
January 1, 1918
The AFL supports U.S. entry into World War I.
Leaders of the IWW are sentenced to prison for opposing World War I, as is socialist Eugene Debs.
The Homestead Strike
June 30, 1892 — July 6, 1892
A steelworker strike in Andrew Carnegie’s Homestead plant outside Pittsburgh is broken by a private police force that kills strikers and their families.
The Pullman Strike
January 1, 1894
A national railroad strike is crushed by the Army.
Strike leader Eugene Debs is imprisoned for six months the following year.
EARLY 1900'S
A labor rally Haymarket Square in Chicago, called in support of the eight-hour day, erupts into chaos when an unknown party tosses a bomb at police, who then fire into the crowd.
The incident stains labor's image and creates turmoil within the movement.
Haymarket Riot of 1886
A massive wave of postwar strikes involves 20 percent of American workers.
More than 40,000 coal workers and 120,000 textile workers walk off the job. In Boston, police strike, causing chaos in the city.
A national steelworker strike fails to result in union recognition, and a general strike in Seattle is also suppressed.
The First Red Scare results in the arrest of radical union leaders and the deportation of immigrant activists, by the authority of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer.
"Progressive Era"
The Davis-Bacon Act
March 3, 1931: mandates payment of prevailing wages on public construction projects.
Norris-La Guardia Act
Mar 23, 1932: proclaims that yellow-dog contracts, which require a worker to promise not to join a union, are unenforceable.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Perkins Named Secretary of Labor
Mar 5, 1933: Frances Perkins becomes Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor, the first woman in U.S. history to hold a cabinet post.
She favors a comprehensive, pro-labor agenda including minimum wage laws, unemployment insurance, old-age pensions and abolition of child labor.
Her influence on labor policy in the New Deal will be huge.
Fair Labor Standards Act
Jun 25, 1938: sets a 40-hour workweek with time-and-a-half for additional hours.
It also establishes a national minimum wage and puts severe restrictions on child labor.
1930's Labor Politics
1930: Democrats take over Congress and begin to enact Pro-Labor legislation.

Settled a long-standing dispute between management and labor.
The law also limits courts' power to issue injunctions against strikes.
Elected President 1932
Jul 27, 1935: President Roosevelt signs into law the National Labor Relations Act, known as the Wagner Act.
The law safeguards union organizing efforts and authorizes the National Labor Relations Board to assure fairness in union elections and during collective bargaining with employers.
The new law tilts the playing field significantly in labor's favor, prompting a huge unionization drive throughout the late 1930s.
1912 Lawrence Textile Strike led by IWW
36 out of 100 workers died at factory.
Factory workers mainly immigrant women.
Prompted by a two-hour pay cut corresponding to a new law shortening the workweek, the strike spread rapidly through the town, growing to more than twenty thousand workers and involving nearly every mill in Lawrence.
The strike united workers from 51 different nationalities.
Defied assumptions from AFL and other trade unions that immigrants and women could be organized.
Pullman Porters
The Order of Sleeping Car Conductors was organized on 20 February 1918 in Kansas City, Missouri. Members had to be white males.
Because the order did not admit blacks, A. Philip Randolph began organizing the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
Using the motto "Fight or Be Slaves", on August 25, 1925, 500 porters met in Harlem and decided to make an effort to organize.
Under Randolph's leadership the first black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was formed and slowly but eventually, working conditions and salaries improved.
Flint Sit-Down Strike
Dec. 30, 1936 — Feb. 11, 1937

Worker upsurges lead United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis and Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America President Sidney Hillman to urge the AFL to charter industrial unions, representing all the workers in a factory, rather than stick with craft unions (Carpenters, Plumbers, etc.), which aim to unionize only factory workers with identifiable crafts.
At the 1935 AFL convention, Lewis and Hillman are defeated.
Lewis punches out Carpenters Union President “Big Bill” (he weighed 300 pounds) Hutcheson on the convention floor and storms out, forming the Committee for Industrial Organizations (CIO) with Hillman and other leaders in opposition to the AFL’s position.
Hiring hundreds of radical organizers, they plan to unionize the steel, auto, rubber, textile, and other industries.
November 9, 1935
Organize, organize, organize...
American manufacturing grows rapidly to meet the demands of World War II, and union membership, with the encouragement of the Roosevelt administration, grows with it.
By 1945, 36 percent of the workforce is unionized—almost all of it in the private sector, virtually none of it in the South.
World War II
January 1, 1941 — January 1, 1945
After the war, wages fell across the board leading to large strikes from both union leadership and the rank and file. Among the strikers included:
43,000 oil workers (October 1945)
225,000 United Auto Workers (November 1945)
174,000 electric workers (January 1946)
93,000 meatpackers (January 1946)
750,000 steel workers (January 1946)
340,000 coal miners (April 1946)
120,000 miners, rail & steel workers in the Pittsburgh region. (December 1946)
Over President Harry Truman’s veto, Republicans and conservative Democrats pass the Taft-Hartley Act.
Because of the law, unions can no longer refuse to transport the goods of employers being struck by other unions or picket stores selling those goods.
Taft-Hartley’s “right to work” provisions permit state laws that prevent unions from collecting dues from workers it represents in collective bargaining who do not wish to join the union.
Southern, Prairie, and Mountain West states enact such laws in subsequent years.
June 23, 1947
Most of the critical differences that once separated the two organizations had faded since the 1930s.
The AFL had not only embraced industrial organizing, but included industrial unions, such as the International Association of Machinists, that had become as large as the UAW or the Steelworkers.
Twice as large as the CIO.

Failed "Operation Dixie"
Reuther was spurred toward merger by the threats from David J. McDonald, Murray’s successor as President of the Steelworkers, who disliked Reuther intensely, insulted him publicly and flirted with disaffiliation from the CIO.
While Reuther set out a number of conditions for merger with the AFL, such as constitutional provisions supporting industrial unionism, guarantees against racial discrimination, and internal procedures to clean up corrupt unions, his weak bargaining position forced him to compromise most of these demands.
Although the unions that made up the CIO survived, and in some cases thrived, as members of the newly created AFL-CIO, the CIO as an organization essentially disappeared in the merger process.
AFL President George Meany became the merged organization’s president.
Union membership is at 33 percent of the workforce.
Continuing an AFL practice, the AFL-CIO runs a wide-ranging, global, and sometimes covert anti-communist network.
Reuther’s proposals to use the occasion of the merger to renew large-scale organizing are not taken up.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, most unions devote on average about 4 percent of their budgets to organizing.
The Merger
Corruption Backlash
Teamsters expelled from AFL-CIO for corruption.
Jimmy Hoffa elected President.
Landrum Griffith Act 1959: holds labor leaders to stricter standards in handling union funds and requires them to file annual reports.
1959: Steelworkers Largest Strike in US History.
January 17th, 1962
Executive Order 10988 by Kennedy.
Recognizes federal workers unions.
“The efficient administration of the government and the well-being of employees requires that orderly and constructive relationships be maintained between employee organizations and management.“
By 1970 there were over 4 million organized public sector employees
By 1966 , school funding had fallen while enrollment—and the need for more teachers, buildings, and supplies—had soared. Teachers were underpaid, benefits were poor, and school facilities in bad shape.
FEA lobbied for a minimum teacher salary of $5,000 a year and a more equitable means of funding schools than property taxes. The Democratic-controlled state legislature approved higher sales taxes. But Kirk vetoed the budget, and Republican legislators upheld the veto.
Outraged by the veto, Florida teachers went on a statewide strike—the first statewide teachers' strike in American history.
An August 1967 rally at the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando drew 30,000 teachers. Even though public employee strikes are illegal in Florida. In September 1967, most of the teachers in Pinellas and Broward counties resigned in protest, forcing schools to close. A court ordered the teachers back into the classroom, but hundreds stayed out.

Teachers Unite In Florida
Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1968, Dr. King and the SCLC organized the "Poor People's Campaign" to address issues of economic justice.
King traveled the country to assemble "a multiracial army of the poor" that would march on Washington to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol until Congress created a bill of rights for poor Americans.
In 1968 MLK was assassinated while he went to Memphis in support of the black sanitary public works employees, represented by AFSCME Local 1733, who had been on strike since March 12 for higher wages and better treatment.

Cesar Chavez
Caesar Chávez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). It was later called the United Farm Workers (UFW).
Chávez and the NFWA led a strike of California grape pickers on the historic farmworkers march from Delano to the California state capitol in Sacramento.. The UFW encouraged all Americans to boycott table grapes as a show of support.
These activities led to similar movements in Southern Texas in 1966, where the UFW supported fruit workers in Starr County, Texas, and led a march to Austin, in support of UFW farm workers' rights.
In the early 1970s, the UFW organized strikes and boycotts to protest for, and later win, higher wages for those farm workers who were working for grape and lettuce growers. The union also won passage of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which gave collective bargaining rights to farm workers.

Equal Pay Act
The Equal Pay Act prohibits discrimination in wages on the basis of sex. The result: women's earnings will climb from 62% of men's in 1970 to 80% in 2004.
Civil Rights Era
The Times they are a changing...
August 28th, 1963
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
Chaired by A. Philip Randolph
Largely funded by UAW.
January 1, 1964 — January 1, 1965
The AFL-CIO and member unions lobby for civil-rights and Great Society legislation.
1964 Civil Rights Act
Jun 10, 1963
1969: Apollo 11 lands first humans on the moon.
Thanks to 10k+ union members.
On August 3, 1981 the union declared a strike, seeking better working conditions, better pay and a 32-hour workweek. In doing so, the union violated a law that banned strikes by government unions.
Ronald Reagan, however, declared the PATCO strike a "peril to national safety" and ordered them back to work under the terms of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947.
Only 1,300 of the nearly 13,000 controllers returned to work. Subsequently, Reagan demanded those remaining on strike return to work within 48 hours, otherwise their jobs would be forfeited. At the same time Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis organized for replacements and started contingency plans
On August 5, following the PATCO workers refusal to return to work Reagan fired the 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored the order, and banned them from federal service for life (which was later rescinded by the President).
They were replaced initially with nonparticipating controllers, supervisors, staff personnel, some nonrated personnel, and in some cases by controllers transferred temporarily from other facilities. Some military controllers were also used until replacements could be trained. The union was decertified on October 22, 1981.
Reagan's action and the demise of the union sets a new tone for labor-management relations across the country.
Employers begin to take tough stands against unions and do not hesitate to replace strikers with replacements. The decline in union membership accelerates.
Shift from manufacturing to the service sectors, so that manufacturing has a lower share of total output or employment.
A de-industrialization crisis has been used to describe the decline of manufacturing in a number of countries and the flight of jobs away from cities.
Companies moved their production to other areas where wages and standards were lower.
In addition, technological inventions that required less manual labor erased many manufacturing jobs.
The Rust Belt, Detroit and the Auto Industry.
RIGHT TO WORK...for less.
1993 pushed by President Bill Clinton.
NAFTA's proponents believe that more jobs are ultimately created in the USA.
Opponents see the agreements as costly to well-paying American jobs . Declines in employment opportunities within manufacturing industries and increases in trade deficits are some of the negative side effects of NAFTA pointed out by the critics.
As a result, fifteen percent of employers in manufacturing, communication, and wholesale/distribution shut down or relocated plants due to union organizing drives since NAFTA’s implementation.
The weakening of rights for the American labor force is one example of the “race to the bottom” theory , workers are faced with the dilemma of settling for less worker’s rights because the firm always will have the ability to relocate to another country, where they can attain cheaper labor and will face less resistance from workers.

States with "Right to Work" Laws Have:
Lower Wages and Incomes
Less Job-Based Health Insurance Coverage
Higher Poverty and Infant Mortality Rates
Less Investment in Education
Higher Rates of Death on the Job
Union membership in a spiraling decline.
In 1983, an average janitor working in LA had a salary of over $7.00/hour and full health insurance for the janitor and his/her family. By 1986, the janitorial wages had been cut to a mere $4.50/hour, and health care coverage was no longer an option. Janitors organized through SEIU to fight back. They wanted to hold both the owners and the contractors accountable.
The official strike of Janitors for Justice in Los Angeles began on April 3, 1990.
The janitors in Los Angeles stayed on strike until April 22. By this time, they had reached a contract that guaranteed at least a 22% raise over the next three years.
Seattle WTO Protests
The AFL-CIO reverses its historic opposition to immigration and becomes an advocate of legalizing undocumented immigrants.
Record profits and record low wages model.
In 2000, when a small meatcutting department successfully organized a union at a Wal-Mart store in Texas, Wal-Mart responded a week later by announcing the phase-out of its in-store meatcutting company-wide.
A New Direction
Social Unrest Turns Violent
Tea Fallout
Marked by wealth and excess.
Income inequality skyrocketed.
Speculation and unregulated economic expansion.
American Plan: decrease union membership from 5.1 million in 1920 to 3.6 million in 1929.
The great stock market crash of 1929.
A third of the population was unemployed.
Widespread economic hardship created sympathy for working people.
New World Organizing
World Financial Crisis
Deregulated markets.
Housing bubble.
Financial institutions collapse.
The rich get richer....and richer.
Bailout backlash.
Extremist politicians elected.
Passing anti-worker laws all across the country.
Collective bargaining, worker protections, pensions, and right to work.
1. Opening Up and Broadening the Labor Movement.
2. Economics for Shared Prosperity.
3. A Road Map to Citizenship for Aspiring Americans.
4. Embracing and Including the Diverse Workforce.
5. Southern Strategy that will include a long-term commitment to organize the South.

Organizing 3.0
The Future is Ours.
The rich are the richest...ever.
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