Unions have played a significant role in workforce history, have they outlived their purpose in the USA?

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Title: Unions have played a significant role in workforce history, have they outlived their purpose.


Labor unions are lawfully recognized as envoys of employees in many companies in the United States. Activities of labor unions are centered on collective bargaining over workers’ benefits, working conditions, and salaries. They also stand in for their members in disagreements with management over the contract provisions violation. There are also larger unions that engage in activities of lobbying and electioneering at the federal or state level. In America, most unions are associated with one or two wider umbrella organizations. These unions stand to advocate legislation and policies on the workers’ behalf. They are also actively involved in workers politics, as well as issues of global trade but as times generations changed have they out lived their purpose. This paper examines labor unions, labor laws, NLRB and, the different generations represented in the workforce and how they affect the future of the Union.


Labor unions have existed in one form or another in the United States since the birth of the country. They were created in an effort to protect the working population from abuses such as sweatshops and unsafe working conditions. On the other hand, they have also been accused of crippling industries and consorting with organized crime over the decades. But in one way or another, labor unions have been woven into the political, economic and cultural fabric of America, and their influence has played a colorful role in its development. The first hundred years of U.S. history saw relatively little in the development of labor unions. A few were organized in scattered fashion, but many of those simply disbanded after they had achieved their goals, such as when the printers briefly unionized in New York City in 1778. The first successful strike in building trades took place in 1791 when Philadelphia carpenters campaigned for a ten-hour workday. The need for both skilled and unskilled labor mushroomed during the Industrial Revolution and the Civil War, and the subsequent discontinuation of slavery helped to illustrate the right of workers to receive a fair wage for their labor.

The first halting steps beyond separate craft guilds at the local level occurred between 1833 and 1837, when workers in a wide range of skilled jobs formed citywide labor organizations in and around Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Their goal was to resist the longer hours and wage cuts that were being demanded by employers. Union leaders from these cities met yearly under the name General Trades' Union, but in fact there was little coordination beyond the city level. However, the new labor leaders did speak out against increasingly frequent claims by publicists of the day that the new economic conditions were simply due to abstract and neutral economic laws, which of course became a familiar refrain for employers and all those social scientists who think that it's all about free markets and not at all about power (Lambert 2005).

The National Labor Union was created in 1866 to convince Congress to limit the workday for federal employees to eight hours, but the private sector was much harder for unions to penetrate. The continual flood of immigrants coming into the country further diluted the workforce, and the price of labor declined as a result. Poor pay and working conditions in the 1890s led the Pullman Railroad workers and United Mine workers to lay down their tools in protest, but both strikes were broken up by the government. The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions was formed in 1881, and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was founded five years later. Its founders expressed their desire for a more effective and organized union of workers. This was triggered by the many trades that had been affected by machinery introduction and the division of labor. Women and children were used for labor, but no apprentice was offered to them (Friedman, 2010). The AFL was therefore established to protect America’s skilled from being exploited, as well as sustaining American skill and workmanship standard. Congress became more sympathetic toward the labor force as time passed, which led to the creation of the Department of Labor.
The early forms of labor organization in the United States were largely mutual aid societies or craft guilds that restricted entry into a craft and enforced workplace standards, as was also the case in Western Europe. It didn't cause too many hassles because craft workers were relatively few in number and most companies were small. But industrial development in the early nineteenth century slowly widened the gap between employers and skilled workers, so the workers began to think of industrial factories as a threat to both their wages and status. They soon formed young craft unions in an attempt to resist sudden wage cuts, longer working hours, and unsafe working conditions, while protecting their political, social, and economic rights. Most of these unions were local, but as both labor and product markets became more national due to improvements in transportation, and as employers continued to decrease wages and de-skill jobs, workers came to believe that they would have to organize on a wider basis if they were to be effective.

Labor unions grew in power and number from the Civil War through World War I, as the need for factory workers and other laborers increased. They lost ground during the Roaring '20s, however, when the economy grew so much that the need for unionization seemed neither here nor there. But that quickly reversed during the Great Depression; this trend and unions grew stronger than ever under Roosevelt's New Deal policies. Union membership grew as the depression wore on and workers sought employment assistance from the local union. The power of the labor unions was somewhat shortened during World War II, however, as some unions, such as those in the defense industry, were forbidden by the government to strike due to the impediment that it would present to wartime production. But the end of the war saw a wave of strikes in many industries and it was at this point that union power and membership reached its zenith. The unions were a controlling force in the economy during the late '40s and '50s, and the AFL merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations at this point to spearhead the American labor force. But the strength of the unions during this era led many union leaders into corruption and complacency,  power of the unions began to drop in subsequent decades. As additional laws were passed outlawing child labor and mandating equal pay for equal work regardless of race or gender, unions became less important to workers who were able to rely on federal laws to protect them.

With withdrawal of WWI federal intervention, dues-paying union membership fell throughout the 1920s from a reported peak of 5 million in 1920 to fewer than 3 million by 1933. According to NBER figures, membership then turned around to more than double to 7.2 million by 1940, doubled again to a staggering 13.2 million by 1945, and increased more slowly to 14.8 million by 1950. There was no such postwar slump in membership after World War I because the pro-union legal framework empowering unions remained in place. Wartime proved affluent for unions. WWII government labor boards operated, on net, to advance unionization, cementing in place the union gains originally created by the WWI and New Deal interventions. Between 1933 and 1945 the unionized fraction of the civilian labor force rose fourfold from 5.7% to 22.4%. That proportion eroded but remained above 20% during the 1950s. Since 1960, however, a sharp decline in union density has set in all Western countries. According to OECD data, estimated union density in the United States was 30.9% in 1960, 22.3% in 1980, 12.8% in 2000 and 11.6% in 2007. While the overall rate of decline has recently slowed, the decline in private sector union membership has been partially concealed by union growth in the public sector. Despite the erosion in their power and influence, labor unions are still proving their importance, as they are influential during political elections. The unions hope that they will be able to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which is a measure of legislation that will greatly streamline and shorten the process currently in place that unions must use to bring in new members. This act will effectively shift the balance of power in the workplace in the unions' favor and allow their memberships to grow rapidly. Although the possible impact that this could have on the economy is somewhat unclear, unions will continue to play a role in the U.S. labor force for decades to come.

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Labor and employment Law

The new industrial age and the resulting growth of the U.S. economy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s affected nearly everyone in America. Industrial combination and concentration became the norm, with huge trusts appearing in almost every industry. The workplace was changing as machines became common and the demand for unskilled workers brought new groups into the workforce, including immigrants, women, and children. By 1920, nearly 20 percent of all manufacturing workers were women, and 13 percent of all textile workers were younger than 16 years old. The abundance of laborers available for these ...

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