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1950-69 Reaction and Reform
Did the actions of the federal government after 1950 promote the
consolidation of trade union rights?
Was the US in the 1950's really an `affluent society'?
Gross National Product Scientific developments/new technology
60% of American families owned their own The number of hours and workers needed to
homes produce a car fell by 50%
75% owned cars The first nuclear power plant opened in 1957
87% owned at least one TV The chemical industry became the fourth largest
US industry and electronics the fifth
The average workers income was 35% higher 1944 Mark 1 calculator produced, by mid 6o's
than in 1945 and 200% higher than in the 1920's 30,000 main frame computers were being used
by banks and insurance companies.
Labour rights in danger?
Decrease in Blue-Collar workers , consequentially led to a 50% decrease in trade union membership.
Newly created jobs were concentrated in white-collar and service sectors , these workers often
signed no-strike agreements and were sometimes barred from joining trade unions. Organised
labour saw its proportion of the labour force drop from 36% in 1953 to 31 per cent in 1960.
Why did workers display a sense of complacency by 1950?
Enjoyed higher wage levels than ever before
Average working week of less than 40 hours
Many received additional benefits such as paid vacations, healthcare and automatic wage
Key date: 1955 AFL-CIO merger meant that 85% of union members were part of a collective unit.
This is a result of the impact of economic change and structural changes within the workforce
leading to a greater need for solidarity within the labour movement.
1960 35 million Americans (20% of population) lived below the poverty line.
Half of the housing in New York's heavily black Harlem district was pre-dated 1900 and was in a poor
Manual labour workers
Professional, technological, clerical and sales occupations
Leisure industry, retail outlets, eating places, real estate etc.
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Did the policies of successive federal administrations in the 1960's
support the further development of labour rights?
Kennedy's `New Frontier' (1960-3)
`New Frontier' reform at home and victory abroad
Kennedy's ambitious social reform was only partly successful due to his lack of support in congress.
For example, the bill to increase the minimum wage in 1961 was rejected by congress (although
those workers already subject to the Act saw their hourly rate marginally increased).…read more
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Union Gains in the 1960's
Following the merger between the AFL-CIO in 1955, American unions began to bargain over wages
and working conditions with some success wages rose steadily, and union workers earnt around
20% more than non-union workers.
Unions also won a list of benefits including medical and dental insurance, paid holidays and vacations,
unemployment insurance and pensions. These benefits were generally worth 60% more than what
were given to non-union workers.…read more