To what extent was the 1920s a major turning point in the development of labour and trade union rights in the USA from 1865-1992?

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To what extent was the 1920’s a major turning point in the development of labour and trade union rights in the USA from 1865-1992?

Throughout the period trade union rights, the most basic of which was to exist, and labour rights, which unlike trade union rights were granted by the employer and were individual to the workers, generally failed to develop along the same trajectory. At many points, indeed during the 1920s, the advancement of labour rights appeared to conflict with the development of trade union rights.  However, when considering the turning points in the development of trade union and labour rights together during the period, it is evident that the 1920’s, far from being a turning point, was an era which saw only superficial advancements in labour rights and limited change for trade unions. In contrast, major turning points can be identified at the very start of the period, which saw the establishment of trade unions, during the 1930’s and towards the end of the period between 1980 and 1992, a pivotal time due to the significant regression of union rights.

As a decade which enjoyed an unprecedented level of economic prosperity, it is true that during the 1920’s workers were indeed granted better conditions and the number of causes of industrial unrest was reduced. For example, workers saw a rise in real wages and employers taking actions to improve working conditions by reducing working hours and introducing insurance benefits and pension plans. Henry Ford was an example of the “welfare capitalism” which characterised the 1920s, Ford Motor Company was the first big business to double the daily wage and introduce the 8 hour working day. Representatives were even able to meet with employers to discuss grievances over production and plant safety. These developments were clearly significant for labour rights as the fundamental right of working in a safe environment and negotiating conditions were established. Similarly the 1920’s did see some improvements for trade unions. The establishment of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids was significant as it included African-Americans who had been largely excluded from organised labour.  However, under the system of welfare capitalism both labour and union rights were in reality far from improving and to an extent were actually impeded. Though workers appeared to gain more benefits, they were in fact prevented from calling strikes and lacked the power to negotiate wages, two very basic rights. Similarly businesses employed management spies and private police who worked at suppressing unionism. The perceived improvement in labour rights also meant workers were less motivated to join trade unions which, in context of the ‘Red Scare’, were increasingly viewed as subversive. It is therefore evident that the 1920s saw an increase in only superficial and material rights for workers, who in reality were more tightly controlled than before. Trade unions saw even less development and a decline in the numbers of new workers joining.

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In contrast the 1930’s was a decade of considerably greater significance. In particular Roosevelt’s New Deal was a turning point in the development of both trade union and labour rights. The National Labour Relations Act of 1935 was a pivotal point as the act, most significantly, was the first piece of national legislation that recognised the right of workers to join trade unions and to elect their own representatives to take part in collective bargaining. This was a crucial development in labour rights as it gave workers a voice with which to negotiate and express concerns. Labour rights were ...

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The quality of writing lets this essay down. At times it comes across as informal, which is bad because Progressivism is a serious historical topic. Instead of saying ''Now we have looked at both Roosevelt and Taft'', it would be better to say ''After consideration of both Roosevelt and Taft...''. Try to avoid using ''we'' in essays altogether (unless it's from a quote), as you are trying to create an argument, not create a relationship with the reader. On the plus side, the essay's spelling, grammar and punctuation are excellent, which is good because it means the examiner doesn't have to work out what the student is trying to say and can instead focus on giving them marks for their argument and knowledge.

The student uses some good evidence in their essay, such as the use of dates - "Trade Commission Act (1914)" is good because it shows the student can place events into a timeframe rather than just quote names of laws. It would be even better if this student had pointed out the significance of the time it was passed - they could point out that it was almost at the start of his presidency, which would show that he wanted to pass Progressive laws like this as soon as possible. This would be good, as talking about the significance of events shows understanding while talking about the details of them only shows a good memory. The student needs to take care with factual evidence: because American elections are nearly always in November and there is a gap while the previous president leaves, presidents become president the year after they are elected, so it was inaccurate to say "Taft was a president from 1908 - 1912". It is also inaccurate to say "he is well known for being ‘hand picked by Theodore Roosevelt’" as American presidents are not appointed by the president before them, they are elected. It is important to get facts correct as much as possible because several mistakes in the same essay will suggest you have little understanding - or you haven't revised - so always make sure you copy down information carefully when making revision notes. However, the conclusion is excellent as the student picks Wilson as the most progressive president, which is good as it answers the question and shows they can assess evidence to find an interpretation they agree with.

The student has an excellent understanding of the question, and they show this in the introduction by defining Progressive, which shows immediately that they are knowledgeable. They then select the presidents they will consider, which shows they can select relevant facts. Weaker students might have chosen two random presidents to contrast with Wilson, but by choosing those who were president around the same time, the student is showing they can talk about the examples most relevant to the question. A strength of this essay is the way the student considers each of the three presidents in detail: this answers the question because it shows they are aware that Wilson might not have been the most Progressive president, and they are thinking widely and considering the alternatives.