Labor Unions and the history of America

Labor Unions and the history of America

Labor Union functions as representative of workers in various industries.

The roots of labor union are linked to the early history of America in 17th century. The early unions consisted of guilds and carpenters, who even played an important in struggle of independence. By 1820s various unions worked to reduce working hours from 12 to 10 hours.  Labor unions have been set as reaction to protect workers from employers. The need rose due to the arrival of industrialization that developed factory system creating misery and slum among the poor workers. Factories produced massive wealth for few and great misery for many. The workers recognised their power and organised themselves in the shape of unions.

Their power grew steadily in the mid 19th century where various trade unions joined together in citywide federation forming National Labor Union (NLU) in 1866. It was due to the persuasion of NLU that congress passed eight-hour working day for in 1873. Labor Union is other countries; such as Belgium, Sweden Finland have centralized unions, where all industries have a specific union and then merge into a large national confederation.

Finland is one of the largest labor union in Europe with about 1.2 million members out of 5 million-country populations. There are countries like France where only 10 percent worker form the par of unions. Most of which are normally represented by in main confederation. The Australia Labor movement is historically connected with craft and trade.  Australian current government brought many changes in recent times through Workplace Act 1996 (Fraser, 1974).

In 20th century American Labor Union remained important in organisation often revolving around issues such as immigrant rights, trade policy, healthcare, wage campaigns. The post World War I brought wages down and caused major erosion in union membership between 1920 and 1930. National Association of Manufactures played on the fear of Bolsheviks and declared by President John Kirby as “un-American and illegal”.  And in the following years the demands; such as shorter hours, higher wages, regulation of child labor were seen as anti-American and going towards communism.

The employers exploited this situation on the pretext of patriotism and workers had to sign “yellow dog contract” where a worker had to sign in order to get job with a declaration not to join a union (Card and Alan, 1995). In 1935 John Lewis accounted the creation of CIO (Committee for Industrial Organization), which composed of about a dozen leaders of AFL unions carrying out the efforts of industrial unionism.

The Industrial Unions basically organized all kind workers and in short they were the unions of unskilled workers.  CIO did successful campaigns over the next few years and brought the industrial unions to larger sectors of American industry gaining substantial membership. During the World War II CIO worked on the workers problems. In 1955, CIO and AFL merged together and helped in eliminating jurisdictional disputed which labor unions were facing for decades. Instead now unions placed new emphasis on organizing workers in various industries and plants where labor representation did not exist.

And in many cases these unions had to cross the barriers of older way of thinking to reach the employees who for decades resisted unions. The labor movement has enormous impact to bring an end to child labor practices, improved conditions and wages for both union and no union workers raising the standard for the whole society.

It also supported better education for the workers children enabling the working class to get rid of poverty. And it even brought rights for women for example on average women in UK are still earning lesser than men; but the women who have union membership earn more than non-members women. However this policy seems to work only in developed countries where there are regulations. In countries such as China where workers have lesser freedom do not have the same rights as workers in developed countries (Card and Alan, 1995).

Today’s management theories are dealing with, hegemonic and acceptable ways in which communications is used for many tasks inside organization, and also how life in organization affect its workers. Modern organizations are diverse in nature and the working environment is changed. Managers are now facing new problems, such as diversity in workplace, extensive use of technology and stress in workplace (Orakzai, 2006).

In modern times Human Resources has emerged as an important part of organization which is  meant to develop and create superior man power for organization The reason for such approach is that superior human resources are hard to replicate and companies like Wal-Mart, Southwest Airlines have invested and nurtured human resources (Satish and David, 1998). Even though there are no unions but HRM practices are applied to develop competitive advantage in recruitment, training, performances and worker empowerment. For firms now there are new challenges such as managing diversity and transformation due to technological change (Nancy and Orlando, 2001).

Since 1980s, there seems to have been great shift in power of unions. Before 1980s the labor management was mainly dependent on soft strategy of negotiation in order to settle down the disputes. In the case of disputes firms often used managers to sort out the problem or opted for temporary workers to replace the workers on strike.  Since 1980 there has been hard strategy used by companies such as threat of employment and joblessness that means permanent replacement of workers to prevent strikes (Thomas, 1997).

There have been several reasons for such decline; one major reason is employers who keep their business union free. Some of the companies even hired consultants and resorted to legal strategies; while others put workers in management team by appointing them board of director and profit sharing plan. Another reason has been greater number of women and children joining workforce, whose income is as a second income for the family. Most of them are interested in earning money even if it meant lower wages rather than resisting. And the last reasons is union too much success.

For many years unions have been fighting for higher wages; which has raised a lot. This success made many unions made products too expensive to be bought by consumers; who prefer cheaper imported foreign products. This trend has raised losses in many industries including many workers losing their jobs leading to decline in power of unions.  And the last reason is the use of technology in workplaces, which require fewer workers to do a lot of work. The traditional reliance on industrial jobs has been lost which used to be stronghold of the white-collar class; all these factors have lead to decline of union in modern organization.


Thomas L Traynor, , (1997).Impact of post-PATCO labor relations on U.S. union wages. The Eastern Economic Journal.

Satish P. Deshpande, David J. Flanagan, (1996).Top Management’s Perceptions of Changes in HRM . Journal of Small Business Management.

Nancy Brown Johnson, Orlando C. Richard, (2001).Understanding the Impact of Human Resource Diversity Practices on Firm Performance . Journal of Managerial Issues.

Fraser, W. Hamish , (1974). Trade Unions and Society. Rowman and Little field.

Card David, Krueger Alan, (1995). Myth and measurement: The new economics of the minimum wage. Princeton University Press.

Orakzai, Tanvir , (July 3, 2006). Organization communication: an analysis. Retrieved July 10, 2006, Web site: