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How far was the development of trade union rights hindered by divisions within the American trade union movements 1865-1980?

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Introduction

How far was the development of trade union rights hindered by divisions within the American trade union movements 1865-1980? Throughout the twentieth century, running parallel to the struggle for civil rights in politics, education and many other aspects of life was the fight for rights in labour and labour relations. Workers had very little or no rights when working in America in the early to mid 1800's; however, by the twentieth century this had changed for the better, with women and the ethnic minorities' position greatly strengthened. Unfortunately, in the l970's and 1980's the trade union movement and ultimately membership had decreased drastically in popularity with the new breed of workers either choosing or being persuaded to reject organized labour. The nature and composition of the workforce was itself significant. From the 1830's, many industries depended on unskilled immigrant labour. This was increasingly cheap and plentiful; even more so following the end of slavery in 1863 many blacks entered the industrial workforce. This now multicultural workforce which included Europeans was critical, as workers were divided by language, religion, and were treated with hostility and suspicion by white, native born Americans. Both the immigrant and white workforce refused to work with the blacks. ...read more.

Middle

As early as 1869, blacks had begun to form their own unions. The National Negro Labour Union was founded in that year and attempted and unsuccessfully, to affiliate with white skilled unions. The blacks made various attempts to unify, for example, A. Philip Randolph's BSCP, however, this usually failed. It seemed the workers had much opposition; however, the white's ignorance in not uniting caused them greater problems in the long term, since there were so many groups with differing objectives. Fortunately in 1935, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) formed, and was actively committed to organising labour, regardless of race and indeed, broke down racial barriers to unite labour and to some degree of success. The years of the First World War saw a slight improvement in the position of trade unions. In spite of the racial tensions caused by the influx of immigrant and African American labour into northern industrial areas, the needs of the war and the opportunities it offered to industrialists encouraged a more conciliatory policy towards unions. Nonetheless, the Great Depression made the situation disastrous for labour workers with factory closures and bankruptcy for many businesses, thus, a recovery was necessary and new initiatives were introduced to aid this recovery and these had a great effect on trade union members. ...read more.

Conclusion

The union was destroyed and this ultimately led to the death of organised strikes on the national scale and essentially, ended the entire trade union movement. In conclusion, it is necessary to state immediately that the trade union movement and its rights were greatly hindered. Undoubtedly and undeniably divisions within the movement affected success. These divisions impeded the development of unity and solidarity that labour needed in order to assert its rights and be recognised. At the same time, workers also remained tightly controlled by legislation that established the parameters of acceptable union activity. Organized labour was vulnerable to political swings and fortunes as well as economic change. From the 1960's, trade unions were in decline, initially as a result of the advent of new industries that ultimately reduced the numbers of workers in traditional industries and consequently, in their unions. The right wing policies of Ronald Reagan after 1981 strengthened the position of employers and further weakened the unions. Finally, it is clear that the faults of the union members were great but it would be foolhardy to overlook the role of other factors, (as mentioned above) for their role was just as great and important as the failings of the workers themselves. ...read more.

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