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History Of U.S. Labour Relations

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In the Beginning

Colonial America labour was scarce, raising wages. Nobody wanted to work for someone else. No firm class lines. Individualism reigned. Craftsmen, not labourers. No need for unions.

Beginning 1800's wholesale trade appeared. Transportation advances, competition from buyers to craftsmen. Labour is easier to control, so cheap labour, sweat shops began being used. No labour laws. First union was shoemakers, tailors and printers; craft organisations for skilled workers only, and closed shop, too.

Secretly met to agree on wages and solidarity ruled. Employers feeling threatened turned to the courts. Claimed that unions were illegal combinations of restraint of trade; the conspiracy doctrine. Homeboy judges agreed. 1806 Philadelphia Cordwainers case. Judge rules that the unions attempt to raise wages was a criminal conspiracy; that if two or more conspired to do something jointly the public interest was endangered.

The Depression of 1819 hurt unions, forcing wages downward. Established a 100 year policy of boom times, unions strong. Poor times, employers welcomed strikes. National Labour Relations Act of 1935 slowed this pattern down some; but still some remains. Why?

When prosperity returned in 1822, union strength rose. New England textile mills. Mechanics Union of trade Associations formed in 1827. Different crafts into one body. Father of AFL-CIO, really.

Commonwealth vs. Hunt in 1842 slowed down employer blacklists. Said union activity was not a conspiracy. Not a lot of effect, since depression again. Depression, declining skill requirements, surplus of labour and no protective legislation made factory life rough in the 1840's. 1850's boom times, unions grew again. Mostly narrow craft organisations. National Typographical Union 1852 was attempt to put all craft workers into one group.

Civil War to 1886

Civil war was good for unions; mass industrialisation was the rage. Folk like John D. Rockefeller in oil, Andrew Carnegie in steel and Jay Gould in railroads did much to make mass production the norm. No more local costs and pricing, but national. Competition shifted.

1870-1900 unions grew from 24 to 120. But union leaders and rank/file not close; union reform failing. Much violence; radicals and anarchists. Haymarket square May 4, 1886 from Harvester (International) strike 11 dead and 100 injured. Bomb thrown into crowd. Much of America thought unions were bad.

Knights of Labour 1869 formed by nine tailors in Philly. Example of struggle between collective bargaining and reform. Envisioned one big union for all workers; skilled and unskilled. Formed local assemblies, then district assemblies and the general assembly as the national organisation (1878). Rapid growth. Wanted 8 hour day; worker coops, equal pay for the sexes and abolition of child and convict labour. 1884-5 successful strikes against Gould's Wabash railroad; he forced to capitulate to union demands. From 100,000 to 700,000 in one year.

Fell quickly; lost to Gould's Southwest Railroad in 1886. Leaders would not be solidarity in support to strikes. Retreated into idealism, and did not realise power of skilled workers. Organisation too bulky. Plus, the American Federation of Labour (AFL) formed. AFL skilled only, and convinced that Knights were hurting skilled. Knights by 1893 75,000.

Still, Knights started idea of mass unionisation and first attempt at worker solidarity.

AFL wanted primarily improving wages, hours and working conditions. No politics. Charted in 1886 at Columbus, OH. 25 unions/150,000 initial charter.

Samuel Gompers first president. Cigar maker. Born in London 1850. Three postures: tight organisational discipline, collective bargaining and the ability to strike. Based on gradual improvement. President for 40 years. Distrusted utopians and believed that the individual should be noticed.

Five principles:

* trade autonomy: federation no interfere with individual union activity.

* exclusive jurisdiction: one union represent one type worker. No dual unionism (2 unions after 1 worker)

* economic action to help union members; work within the system, not overthrow it.

* voluntarism: no commit to any political party.

* craft basis only

Labour's Problems: 1886-1918

* Homestead defeat: 1892 Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin workers tried to successfully strike at Carnegie Steel plant in Homestead, PA. Carnegie called in Pinkertons and state militia. Violent. After 4 months, union was whipped. Major defeat.

* Injunction Power: common tactic by management. If 'irreparable' damage could happen, court injunction stops strike. 1894 Eugene V. Debs American Railway Union struck Pullman Palace Car Company, due to 1893 depression decision to lay off half workforce and cut wages 25-40%. Union members refused to work on any train usinf Pullman cars. Boycott working well; President Cleveland got injunction and federal troops to break strike. Debs 3 months in jail. Very effective anti-union tool.

* Surplus labour

* Employer aggressiveness: yellow dog contracts (cannot join union), open shop movement (guarantee the right to work regardless of union status).

* Conspiracy Doctrine revisited: use Sherman Anti-Trust Act to shut down unions. Clayton Act of 1914 to stop this, but employers worked around it. Court system anti-union.

* WWW-radicalism: Wobblies; formed 1905. Lumber and mining in West. Radicals.

WWI to 1929

1914 strongest to date. 1917 strikes everywhere, Wilson established the National War Labour Board; arbitration panel.

After war many strikes, police in Mass, against US Steel and coal industry. All broken via militia or injunctions. Good times, union strength fell. Worker wage rates still low. Company unions.

Another reason for union membership drop was William Green, AFL president after Gompers. Unskilled workers increasing, but Green avoided them.

Govt was still hostile,



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