Trade Union and Labour Civil Rights

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  • Created on: 02-06-11 18:56


Empolyers wanted to reduce the wages of their employees, due to mass expansion by industrialisation.

No laws in place that required employers to recognise the existance of labour unions.

All unions were small and limited to skilled workers- operated in a closed shop that meant one trade union dominated a factory.

The unskilled workforce was rapidly growing due to industrialisation, and these workers needed someone to establish their rights.

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William H Sylvis

Brought together 21 local branches to form Iron Moulders' International Union- 1963. Promoted dignity of the working man and membership should not be divided upon racial or religous grounds.

In 1966- brought together workers' leaders and formed the NLU- as he recognised that there was need for a single association with mass membership and cross-craft links.

They campaigned for an 8 hour day, end of convict labour, federal labour department and immigration restrictions.

Strike between 1866-7 failed- weakened position but did not deter members.

However NLU was deminished in 1869 with the death of Sylvis.

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Impact of Industrialisation in the 1880's

Workers were becoming increasingly less skilled and low paid.

By 1890 unskilled women made up 35% of the workforce.

Saw the use of the contract system by industrialists.

Unskilled workers earned 1/3 of the wage of a skilled artisan.

Had v. bad working conditions and could do little about them, most worked 12 hour days in harzardous conditions.

Employers offered little aid to the injured of widows.

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Knights of Labor 1869

Attracted former members of NLU.

Gained momentum after 1879 when Terence Powderly took leadership- wanted to unite skilled and unskilled workers.

It demanded an 8 hour day, equal pay for women and abolition of child labour.

Rejected strikes and instead seeked reforming legislation to establish workers rights.

Had to abandom anti-strike in 1885 to stop Wabash Railroad anti-union campaign- this gained many more members.

Looked to gain legislation through voting at local elections, galvanised by the slump in the economy.

Lost reputation after the Haymarket Affair in 1886.

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American Federation of Labor (AFL)

Replaced KOL after 1886- seeked to link all unions.

Led by Gompers.

1914- over 2 million members.

Within union, some groups powerful enough to keep som inderpendence.

Use of strikes and boycotts were frequent, but still tried to obtain legislation.

Looked to improve bargaining power and worked with Hanna and Pierpoint Morgan to to establish machinary for giving workers the right to mediation and conciliaiton.

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Samuel Gompers

Led the AFL.

Encouraged them to vote for politicians who supported the concept of workers' rights.

He concentrated on practical goals of raising wages and reducing working hours.

His main aim was to ensure the acceptance of the Union by employers.

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Marcus Hanna and John Pierpoint Morgan

Some of the most influencial businessmen.

Worked with Gompers to establish the machinery for giving workers the rights to mediation and reconciliation.

Hanna Became chairman of the Republican National Committe, and later entered the Senate.

Morgan formed the United States Steel Company and dominated the world of high finance until he died.

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The Industrial Workers of the World

Set up in1905.

Had a reputation of violence.

Employers regarded it with suspicion.

It stood out for its defence of the the rights of the poor and illiterate workers.

Their constant use of sabotage and violence meant they were under constant prosecution and arrest by govt.

Splits began to show in 1924 --> weakened.

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The Haymarkey Affair 1886

Violence broke out between police and striking workers (KOL)

Four workers killed in open fire.

Next evening a rally protest of workers took place. A bomb was thrown killing 7 police.

Police opened fire killing 4 workers.

Violent german anarchists were arrested- johann Most and August Spies.

Americans became convinced that there was a foreign conspiracy and suspicion of trade unions intensified.

It showed/led to splits amoungst workers due to immigration- and led to the exclusivity of trade union membership.

It heightened existing tension from immigrant labour already in the workplace.

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Impact of Immigration

In the early and late 19th century, there was a huge influx of immigrants looking for work.

They were often forced into jobs with poor and dangerous conditions.

This angered many natives who thought that their acceptance of lower pay and bad conditions, reduced their bargining power as employers had the cheap labour that they needed.

Trade Unions saw them as a threat and therefore refused their admittance to unions- immigrant workers made up a majority of the unskilled workforce so this refusal weakened the unions position, so stuggled to gain labour righst recognition.

The violent strike methods associated with immigrant workers in trade unions (e.g. the Molly Maguires) meant that the reaction of employers and general public stopped many workers joining the unions.

Also, both native and european workers refused to work alongside blacks- this lack of unity further impeeded the development of labour rights. Also employers could exploit this division by laying off any restless workers and replacing them with african americans.

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The Molly Maguires 1873

Secret association of Irish immigrant miners fighting for better conditions in the mines.

1873- strikes caused railroad carts to be derailed, coal tips set on fire and a superintendent murdered.

19 men hanged.

It gave more reason for employers to be suspicous of unions and furthered splits amoungst native and immigrant workers.

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Laissez-faire capitalism

Employer's power was strengthened by govt policies.

Govt should not interfere in the organisation and operation of business and commercial concerns.

This meant that highly successful capitalists could monopolise key industries.

This was exploited by Carnegie and Rockefeller.

They often cut wages without warning, layed of workers and changed working hours.

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Andrew Carnegie and John. D. Rockefeller.

Carnegie controlled 25% of the nations iron and stell production.

Company involved in homstead strike 1892.

Rockefeller owned 90% of the US oil refineries.

Fortune= $1 billion.

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Sherman Anti-Trust Act 1890

Outlawed business trusts- could not monopolise trade in a particular product/commodity.

Also banned any contract to stop trade.

Ignored by many employers.

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Lochner v New York 1905

Declared unconstitutional a law imposing a ten-hour day, claiming that is violated the rights of workers to determine their hours of work.

Showed help of S.C. after allowing the use of injunctions to break up strikes.

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Labour Rights of African Americans

The rejection of blacks from white unions forced them into forming their own labour unions e.g. NNLU.

This developed their solidarity and leadership skills.

Many enslaved blacks had acquired skills and were encouraged by Booker. T. Washington to start their own businesses.

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The Homestead Strike 1892

143 day dispute.

A lock-out ended in a battle between strikers and private security agency, while state militia occupied the plant.

It was between the AA and the Carnegie Steel Company run by Frick.

Started as a result of negotiations of a new contract between Frick and AA leaders, where frick proposed a wage reduction and Frick refused to recognise the Union.

The workers later returned to work.

It almost bankcrupt the AA and removed them as a force in the american labor movement.

Many employers refused to sign contracts with AA unions.

Carnegie Steel remained non-union for 40 years.

Employers on all industries became nervouse about accepting the unionisation of workers.

However it shaped strikes from now on, as it was the first organised, successful strike.

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The Pullman Strike 1894

A cut in wages, refusal of negotiation and firing of some workers led workers to strike.

Strike led by Debs and ARU- refused to operate trains using railway carts, bringing much of the rail network to a halt.

There were further disputes over mail carts and rail bosses.

Federal troops were brought in by Cleveland to break the strike- ARU offered to end the strike if all workers were reinstated.

However, some leaders were fired from their jobs.

Showed further employers refusal to recognise collective bargaining- halting labour righst progress.

Shows the use of federal authorities to end strikes --> backing the employers.

First time a court injuction had been used to break strike- this then became a powerful weapon for employers and thawed the chances of a mass labour movement forming.

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ARU and Eugene Debs

Formed in 1893 = militant.

Aimed to unite railway workers across the US.

It took leadership of Pullman strike- for which Debs was imprisoned.

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Woodrow Wilson and Unions 1913

Belived that government should intervene to defend workers from unscrupulous employers = end of laissez-faire attitude.

Formed a new Department of Labor with a former Union official as head.

1914 Clayton Anti-Trust Act- limited the use of injuctions by employers to break up strikes, as long as they didn't damage property.

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Impact of WW1 1914-18

Improvement in the position of trade unions.

1914-1918 factroy production increased  35%.

Prices rose, along with wages = workers content

Federal government began negotiations with unions --> garunteed the rights of workers to join unions and to collective bargaining.

Employers agreed to safegaurd conditions --> implement 8 hour day.

In return Gompers and the AFL ordered workers not to strike during the war.

Union membership almost doubled.

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Aftermath of WW1 1919-1920

Immediate aftermath in 1919 = surge of unrest from racial tension and influx of returing soldiers back to work --> violence and extreme reactions of employers.

In 1919 there was a spurt of strikes, where federal troops were called to stop the strikes, even though this was unjustifiable.

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Economic Prosperity --> wage levels rising steadily, new consumer goods available.

Huge increase for demand in cars, fridges, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and cookers --> more industrial work.

However- great era of suspicion of communism --> hindered union activity.

Also, formation of giant co-operations, such as Ford, which adopted own methods of satisfying the workforce.

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Welfare Capitalism and Yellow Dog Contracts

Rise in real wages and low unemployment = reduction in unrest in 20's.

Strikes were avoided by employers by reducing working hours, insurance, pension plans, recreational schemes = welfare capitalism.

This included setting up comany unions --> discuss greivances, saftey and production levels with employers but not wages and organise strikes.

To avoid unionisation of companies workers required to sign 'Yellow Dog Contract' and the use of spies and secret police supressed any union activity.

Fords factory was a good example of this- reduced to 8 hour day and doubled wages.

However used security to intimidate any potential union organisers.

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Henry Ford

Against trade unions- used security to assult any and intimidate any suspected union organisers.

Used welfare capitalism to avoid strikes.

However, in 1941 after pressure signed contract with the United Auto Workers Union.

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A.Phillip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping

The union was set up in 1925 with porters from the Pullman company, and an outsider Randolph as its leader.

The company appeared good from the outside, but the working conditions and the pay was very poor- they had to rely on tips from white passengers.

The Pullman company refused to recognise it as a union for many years, until in 1935 it was certified as a union and signed its first collective bargaining agreement.

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The Pullman Company

Car company owned by George Pullman- maid railway cars leased to virtually all of the railway companies in the USA.

He prided himself on being a model employer, that his workers were well paid and contented.

However, in 1894 after wage cut and refusal of negotiation the workers went on strike--> v.notorious.

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The Communist Party of the USA

They played an important role in the labour movement.

They helped trade unions become organised.

Promoted equality for black workers.

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Wall Street Crash 1929

Millions of dollars were lost, factories closed and businesses went bankcrupt.

Unemployment soared, especially for blacks.

Conflicts between workers increased- incidences of strikes, sit-ins and occupation of factories increased. Employers used police to break up.

As a resuly only 10% of workers unionised by 1933- many who striked lost their jobs.

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Hebert Hoover and FDR

Strong believer in Laissez-faire- no duty to support those in need.

Lost confidence of public when he failed to respond positively to the effects of the depression.

1932- FDR voted in- 100 days of unprecedented power to reform and get people back into work and sort the industrial unrest. NEW DEAL.

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National Industrial Recovery Act 1933

Established the NRA- fostered cooperation between different sides of the industry by developing agreed codes of practice such as production levels, wage rates, working hours, prices and trade union rights.

Gave right to organise trade unions and collective bargaining.

Limited success- big companies such a henry ford refused to join.

The agreed codes generally favoured employers not workers.

It was ruled unconstitutional by th supreme court in 1935.

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National Labor Relations Act 1935

recognised the rights of workers to elect their own representatives to take part in collective bargaining with employers.

Right to join Trade Unions.

First piece of legislation that recognised workers right to their own representatives.

Banned use of employer spies.

Set up NLRB- had the right to bargain on behalf of workers, and reinstate workers that had been unfairly dismissed + investigate unfair practices.

Facilitated the expansion of trade unions.

However was ruled unconstitutional by the supreme court in 1937.

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Fair Labor Standards Act 1938

Created a $25 minimum weekly wage for industrial workers and payment of time and half for hours in excess of 40/week.

It also prohibited employment of children under 16.

Was amended numerous times to increase minmum wage, and to extend to other jobs.

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John. L. Lewis

Veteran labour leader- president of United Mine Workers 1920-60.

1939- organised the committe for industrial organisation and was president between 1939 and 42.

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CIO 1935

Formed in 1935- 8 unions from within the AFL.

Promoted organisation of unskilled workers in mass production industries.

Operated a closed-shop.

Established sit-in strikes- used effectively in 1937 to gain recognition for car manufacturers.

Supported blacks and women.

Broke away from AFL in 1936- weakening the labor movement until they rejoined in 1955.

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New Deal and Disadvantaged Workers

Mainly benifited skilled, white workers.

Still significant number of unskilled workers, with lower pay, that had no organisation to give them a voice for collective bargaining.

African American and Mexican Americans still faced a lot of discrimination in the workplace, althogh the FEPC set up in 1941 was an effort to combat this.

Position of women not improved- although minimum wage had been established, it upheld wage difference between men and women.

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Impact of WW2 and National War Labor Board

Weakened employers.

NWLB set up by fed.gvt. to sort out wage disputes- wages rose by 70% during war time.

Strikes were prohibited if they interfered with war time production.

States passed laws to ban closed shops- 'right to work laws.'

1941- Ford recognised union.

Unemployment fell- labor shortage --> women, african americans and young people able to get jobs.

However- migration of black workers to norther towns = racial tension --> race riots 1943.

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Post WW2 and Truman

End of wartime controls --> wave of strikes.

Political circles believed unions were becoming too powerful.

Very suspicous of Communist Party of America- many of which were members of Trade Unions.

Taft Harley Act 1947- weakened CIO --> joining of CIO and AFL.

Democratic Truman tried to veto Act in order to retain labour vote, but was stopped by republican congress.

However- 1948 --> paycode  linked to standard of living costs. 1950 = extended to include 5 year contract with pension plan.

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The Taft- Harley Act 1947

Illegal for Unions to operate a closed shop + affirmed rights of states to pass 'right to work' law.

President could order a 60 day cooling off period prior to a strike.

regulated conduct of unions in their dealings with employers

Trade Union leaders had to make a sworn statement of non-communist allegiance.

Deeply affected CIO who had mass support from the Communist Party of America.

It had to dismiss some strong leaders and expelled ten communist led unions in 1949.

Lost 1/3 of membership.

Had to join with AFL in 1955.

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Time of mass economic growth --> new technology + new working practices = complete change in the labour movement.

Massive decrease in blue-collar workers as the workforce decreased from automation of steel, coal and autobile industries. Trade Union membership in these industries greatly decreased, reflecting decrease in workforce.

Mass increase in white-collar and service sectors- they signed no strike agreements, and were often barred from joining trade unions = difficult to unionise. Also, a lot of these were women, who though unions were for men.

Complacency in workers due to benifits of higher wage levels, less hours of work and additional benifits, such as paid vacation and healthcare provisions.

1955- joing of CIO and AFL meant that 85% of union members in one unit- this was needed due to changes in econimy and structure of business.

However, many still lived below the poverty line- 1/3 of the population lived in rural areas and were migrant farmers, Urban problems intensified with a lack of quality housing, and the worsening of ghettos.

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Kennedy's 'New Frontier' 1960-63

Had an ambitious policy of social reform, that was only partially successful.

He had a lack of support in congress meant that his plan to pass a bill in 1961 to increase the minimum wage failed- however those already subject to the act saw a small increase in hourly rate between 1961-63.

Successfully persauded the Steelworkers' Union to accept non-inflatory contract with employers, that included acceptance of minimal wage increases- however employers did not keep agreement.

Equal Pay Act- 1963- wage discrimination on the basis of gender illegal = 'equal pay for equal work.'  Was largely successful- 1970 earnings were equal to 62% of that of mens.

Reforms cut short due to assassination in 1963.

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Johnson's 'Great Society' 1963-68

Had support of labour unions- huge victory in elections.

Firstly wanted to reduce the number of people living below the poverty line--> creation of millions of new jobs and increased spending on social security benifits.

With most of the focus on poverty, less happened for labour rights, however there was some degree of help/improvements:

1964 Civil Rights Act- banned the discrimination on grounds of race, colour, religion, sex or national origin--> helped women, blacks and native americans find jobs.

1964 Economic Oppurtunity Act- established office of Economic Oppurtunity to fun training in skills for jobs, or fund higher education so young people are more employable.

1968 Age Discrimination in Employment Act- banned discrimination in hiring and firing  of people aged 40-65 years old. Also covered promotions, wages and laying-off.

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Union gains in 1960's

AFL-CIO = 16 million members.

Able to negotiate terms with companies.

On average union members earned 20% more than non union members.

Gained medical and dental insurance, paid holidays, unemployment insurance and pensions.

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1981 Air Traffic Controllers' Strike

members of PATCO wanted a pay rise and less working hours- the federal government did not agree to this, as they could not condone a payrise for less work.

The workers went on strike in the peak of summer holidays--> potentially damaging to the economy.

President Reagan responded by saying that if they did not return to work within 48 hours their contract of employment would be terminated and they would be banned from life long employment- he went with his word.

Non-strikers were watched by 3,000 supervisors and military air traffic controllers to minimise disruption.

They recieved very little sympathy as they were already viewed as well-paid. The AFL-CIO condemned reagan, but many other unions were angry at the PATCO who had put all unions into disrepute.

PATCO collapsed after this event.

It also brought a change to the labour movement- as there was a decline in strike action, and the attitudes of the new governmentwere to shape this.

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Change in Economy and Industry 1970-1992

Due to inflation and foreign competition- there was a fall in real wages and a rise in unemployment due to reduced productivity.

However, there was a higher demand for skilled workers- there wages rose significantly.

The gaps between rich and poor widened- a minority got richer, whilst the majority got poorer.

The was not much unrest as they did want to loose what they already had by demanding more --> reduction in strike action.

Opputunities for married women rose --> two incomes to sustain family.

Drop in union membership and general strike action.

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Changing Composition of the Workforce 1970-92

The movement of industry to rural areas made the organisation and recruitment of trade unions more difficult.

Many working in service economy were women, who were lower paid, part-time and generally uninterested in Unions.

New influx of immagrant from Asia settled for lower wages, worked for non-unionised companies --> lack of influence of unions.

Blue-collar work continued to decline, while white-collar work continued to increase. Many of these workerd benifited from welfare schemes by the employers- making them support their employers rather than trade unions.

More of those in the public sector began to join AFL-CIO- Postal strike 1972, teachers strike and municipal workers strike.

Blacks formed CBTU in 1972 that concentrated on obtaining rights for blacks, as they were dissatisfied with the efforts of the AFL-CIO.

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Increase in Power of Employers 1970-92

Non-unionist employers had more flexiblity when it came to wages, so could become more competitive.

Therefore, many unionised companies went aganist agreements and denied workers their rights when it came to wages, hours and conditions.

Although cases were reported to the NLRB- processing was slow, so employers could get away with it.

Further worsened by Air Traffic Controllers' strike in 1981.

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Change in Political policies 1970-92

In the 1970's due to lack of representation of the masses by the Unions, they lost the support of the Democrats, which significantly reduced organised labour.

However- Nixon's policy of Affirmative action did benifit black or other ethnic workers,

1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act- etablished health and safety in work place- establised by Department of Labor not an independent board.

Carter raised minimum wage in 1977, but rejected union AFL-CIO action to reform National Labor Relations act.

Reagan = v. radical economic reform that supported employers.

He lifted restrictive legislation on employers, discredited unions in air traffic strike 1981, and appointed people of onto the NLRB that would settle disputes in favour of the employers.

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Womens' Trade Unions

Before 1970's- WTUL set up in 1903, had support of elanor roosevelt. After lack of gain of equal pay in New Deal- they were supported by men unions out of fear that they would be replaced by cheap women workers.

Women took place in strikes throughout 1960's.

CLUW set up in 1974- inresponse to lack of recognition from AFL-CIO.

Held many strikes throughout 1970's- particulary ethic minority women.

Had slightly started to narrow gap in wages between women and men.

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Anna Blakie


Really helpful, thanks :)

Cora Salkovskis


Thanks - this is really helpful! Just one thing, wasn't the Wagner Act (National Labor Relations Act 1935) declared constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1937, rather than unconstitutional?



No it was deemed unconstitutional in 1937- example of feds support of employer 

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