why were unions important to american workers in the 1930s?

As unemployment deepened in the early 1930s, companies used their leverage to break unions — by conditioning a job on a worker’s agreement not to … The organizing, then, of over 300,000 woodworkers (an industry that existed across the deep South, 50% of whose workers were African-American) had the potential to make a tremendous difference. “. While 31.5% of workers were union members in 1950 and 33.2% were in unions in 1955, that percentage fell to 31.4% in 1960, 28.4% in 1965 and 27.3% in 1970. A Civilian Conservation Corps, designed to stimulate the economy, provided jobs as well. There were some militant strikes and a few partial victories in the last year or so, but the weakened condition of the unions remained unchanged and this is what continues to prompt reassessment of their prospects for survival. Thousands of them joined the CP. Communist Party-led trade union organizations fought against the white chauvinistic policy of the American Federation of Labor, which excluded Black workers, and demanded a united labor movement based on equal rights for all workers. ... violent strike by dock workers in 1934? The decline gained speed in the 1980s and 1990s, spurred by a combination of economic and political developments. The growing differentiation between rich and poor in the countryside, the expansion of resource industries (see Resource Use), the construction of canals and r… Protesters sought to achieve more substantial reform via organizational and electoral pressure for legislative reforms. Richard Hart was involved in trade union activities in the British Caribbean region colonies for many years. But in recent decades, union membership has plummeted. Unions from this point developed increasingly closer ties to the Democratic Party, and are considered a backbone element of the New Deal Coalition. It gave the employee a voice. One of these, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (also known as the Wagner Act) gave workers the right to join unions and to bargain collectively through union representatives. By the early 1980s it was down to 20%. US Labor Unions History: Industrialization in America US Labor Unions began forming in the 1860's in response to the social and economic impact of the Industrial Revolution and Industrialization in America.It was the era in US history that saw the emergence of important industries in agriculture, oil, mining, the railroads, steel, textiles and manufacturing. The toll increased during the initial years of the Depression. Job quotas fluctuated wildly with no apparent relation to unemployment, and workers never knew when they might be laid off. The economic collapse also impacted those with low-wage jobs. Political demonstrations by the unemployed in big cities marched under Communist Party banners with slogans like “Fight—Don’t Starve.” The Unemployed Councils also led mass protests against police oppression and brutality. Unavoidable comparison is made to the similar decline of the unions in the 1920s. With the invention of the steam engine and other industrial advancements, the personality of the American workforce began to change. Unions were developed to keep employees together, and try to earn what they want. Wobblies, Knights, AFL. The jobless rebelled against the inequalities produced by capitalism, an institution of rising profits for the wealthy ruling class. The history of economic depressions and joblessness in the U.S. can be traced back to the 19th century. In the 1960s, the percentage of workers who were members of unions was falling from the peak achieved in the 1940s and 1950s. In reality, U.S. Communist Party members were often concerned with creating better conditions for workers within the capitalist system. A few random examples will suffice to indicate the scope and character of this discussion to date. In the U.S. of the 1930s, the color "red" was most commonly identified with the foreign threat of the Communist Party, which presumably wished to destroy all governments and democracy. The reason for that is primarily the employers’ war against workers, using tactics both legal and illegal to bust unions and to deny workers their basic human right to join and form a … Protests in local communities originated in sporadic street demonstrations, rent rebellions and the disruption of relief centers. The NLRB could force employers to provide back … Some of labor's strength had been lost in the 1920s, a decade dominated by conservative Republicans and business boosterism both in Washington DC and Washington State. Philip M. Dine, State of the Unions: How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve Our Economy, and Regain Political Influence (2007) Dine, who brings a clear pro-union agenda to his work, uses vivid contemporary examples to provide an overview of the labor movement and suggest ways for unions to regain influence. It affected the rich and poor, old and young; just about everyone. Union participation has continued to fall since then. What explains why the AFL rather than the Knights of Labor or the Wobblies were the dominant force in American labor prior to the 1930s? March was the record month, with about fifteen and a half million unemployed. Rick Fantasia, Hard Work: Remaking the American Labor Movement (2004) This account deals with the decline of unions. Today, just 12% of workers are unionized, and the level is substantially lower in the private sector. They contacted President Roosevelt with reviews of the economic situation, deplored WPA cuts and called for the expansion of the WPA. These leaders were also recognized as the official bargaining agent for WPA workers. Labor gained much during the Depression, in part from FDR finally giving his backing to the development and existing unions, in return for campaign donations. Life for migrant workers in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, was an existence exposed to constant hardships. The Unemployed Councils’ headquarters served as meeting halls and places where tired job searchers could rest and talk. They called for the “abolition of the profit system.”. The working class emerged during the 19th century in English Canada as a result of the spread of industrial capitalism in British North America. drought/dust bowl. At the beginning of the 1930s, the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the largest workers’ organization in the country, did not even support unemployment insurance. Demonstrations soon became more massive and well organized; they gained momentum and grew in size and frequency. One of the great conflicts within the labor movement existed between the Craft Unions and the industrial unions.When the American Federation of Labor indicated reluctance to organize unskilled workers, John L. Lewis created the Committee for Industrial Organization within the AFL in 1935. 1,800. The AFL, which was comprised mainly of skilled workers’ unions (many of them segregated), did not see itself as the representative for all American workers. Mounted and unmounted cops used bare fists, night sticks and tear gas in mass arrests and even killings to disperse the crowds. This period represented the peak of labor’s power, as the ranks of unionized workers shrank in subsequent decades. Under the 1935 Social Security Act, the federal government paid a share of state and local public assistance costs. During the 1930s, the Communist Party played a leading role in fighting for the demands of African Americans — who were devastated by the Great Depression — and helped mobilize them for their struggle. Congress of Industrial Organizations: the CIO. Unions were formed for all types of different jobs. Strikes became rare between 1930 and 1933. There was frequently endless competition for underpaid work in regions foreign to them and their families. In 1939, WPA funds were cut, WPA wages were reduced, and workers who had been on WPA payrolls for 18 continuous months were terminated. Unemployment was prevalent in the streets during the 1930s. In 1946, 35% of American workers were represented by unions. The 1930s produced the largest movement of the unemployed and poor that the country had ever known. A member of the Labour Committee formed in Jamaica in 1938 by Norman Manley to assist William Alexander Bustamante in the formation of a trade union, he had the responsibility of drafting a model trade union constitution. About the Author. Many of the migrant workers had owned their own small farms in the Plains states and hoped to save enough money to start their own farms in California. However, as many as one-third of migrant workers in 1930 and the subsequent decade were white-collar workers and professionals who had lost their jobs due to the Great Depression and moved west to seek a better life. Without them, most of us might all still be earning minimum wage with no benefits, and might … Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World. The Great Depression was a trying time for United States citizens in the 1930s. Tens of thousands of people rallied in 1837, 1857, 1873, 1884 and 1893 to demand a public jobs program from the federal government. It was a period of growth and change. Source: “Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail” by Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward. As a result, the government took the stance that less had to be done for them. Protest movements emerged that pitted the rulers against those who were ruled — those whom the system had failed. The mid-19th century saw an ever-increasing number of new industrial unions created to fight for workers' rights. Protesters were often confronted by federal, state and local troops, who aggressively dispersed their actions. Unions formed a backbone element of the New Deal Coalition and of Modern liberalism in the United States. Labor Unions fight for all sorts of benefits, such as: health, higher wages, and better working conditions. And if the USWA and other unions had maintained their civil rights focus, the course of the civil rights struggle and of history might have been altered. At the time, it was common for many Canadians to support themselves as independent farmers, fishermen and craftworkers. There is no doubt that 1933 was the worst year, and March the worst month for joblessness in the history of the United States” (1). The opening up of overseas markets increased competition in many highly organized industries. Interestingly, two of the three are not about farm workers: instead, they focus on the people who interpreted the California farm labor story of the 1930s. Beginning in 1929, Communist Party activists formed “Unemployed Councils” (renamed “Unemployment Councils” in 1934). In the Black Belt South, they also led the sharecroppers union, which fought courageously against the tyranny of the planters. The unemployed became less of a threat because they were divided, and the most skilled were absorbed into the WPA. * Las… The organizers worked the bread lines, flop houses, factories, relief offices and employment office lines. Labor Unions were an important part of the labor movement in the 1920s. The first federally dictated minimum wage came about as a result of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which guaranteed “employees who are engaged in interstate commerce or in the production of goods for commerce, or who are employed by an enterprise engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce” $0.25 an hour as of October 24, 1938. The lack of alternate job opportunities, drought conditions, and cut on government expenses were a few of the factors that contributed to the mass amounts of unemployment. Industries were devastated, as were the towns where they were located. Starting with a chapter on "why labor matters," Fantasia take… Union membership in the state declined, but it is hard to tell how much since unions were disinclined to publicize their weakness. Such difficulties included homelessness, dispossession, serial unemployment, discrimination, violence and even persecution. The Great Depression of the 1930s was a period of economic crisis that drastically affected the daily lives of millions of people, who faced massive unemployment. Black union members earn 40% more than non-union Black workers. 2827 were, or already had been, introduced in the legislatures of California, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and other states. The CP also undertook food collections in the Black community of Harlem, N.Y., where unemployment had risen to as high as 80 percent. (quoted in Loftis, p191) Three recent books make important contributions to our understanding of farm labor issues in the 1930s. At the WPA’s peak, only about one in four persons actually gained employment. Due to people’s unrest, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” administration put forth more liberal relief policies. Members of the Black working class subsequently became leaders of the Black liberation movement. Create your own unique website with customizable templates. Thousands of unemployed veterans descended on Washington, D.C. The National Industrial Recovery Act (1933) provided for collective bargaining. Outsourcing emerged as a popular practice among em… American labor unions benefited greatly from the New Deal policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s. Discussion of various cures for the ailing unions has dominated the organized labor movement recently. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved. Millions of unemployed Blacks and whites marched together, sometimes leading to bloodshed instigated by the cops. Initially, local grassroots organizations were loosely structured, held together mainly by periodic demonstrations. In many places, CP activists organized squads to turn utility services back on. By 1936, 2.5 million WPA jobs had been provided, but nearly 10 million people were still unemployed. Communists declared March 6, 1930, to be International Unemployment Day, and led marches and rallies of the unemployed in most of the major cities in the U.S. Several thousand marched to factories and auto plants to demand jobs and unemployment insurance. Some of these were for the railroads, for factory workers, and also for skilled workers. The next year, the minimum for these workers was raised by a nickel to $0.30 an hour. Federal troops made war on unarmed people, while the mainstream press branded the demonstrations as “riots.”. In conclusion, unions took an a new meaning in the 1930s. After the war workers realized they had lost all of their rights- they needed unions to claim them again. One aspect in particular was the emergence and development of labor movements due to the increasing rates of unemployment. The cannery workers were initially organized under an AFL charter, but when the CIO formed in 1937 the Filipino-led union joined, at first affiliating with the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packers and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA), later becoming Local 37 of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU). Instead of direct public assistance, he called for a public works program. Other settlement houses, which were often led by women, also helped provide necessary social services during the Great Depression. By the mid-1950s, unions in the US had successfully organized approximately one out of every three non-farm workers. The first local unions in the United States formed in the late 18th century, but the movement came into its own after the Civil War, when the short-lived "National Labor Union" (NLU) … Local grassroots protests began to decline in militancy as a result of the Roosevelt administration’s more liberal public assistance policy and the absorption of local leaders into bureaucratic roles. During the 1930s, the Communist Party played a leading role in fighting for the demands of African Americans — who were devastated by the Great Depression — and helped mobilize them for their struggle. A half century ago, American unions were a force to be reckoned with. Of the 14.7 million wage and salary workers who were part of a union in 2018, 28% were Black and 25% were women. In 1936, most major groups of the unemployed merged, and a national poor people’s alliance was formed that agitated and protested to get legislation implemented. They held mass meetings and focused on a dual approach of community and trade union unity. A Wealth Tax Act, Wagner Act and Social Security Act were implemented. They opposed high food and rent costs, and big business. The Bureau of Labor Statistics later estimated that 12,830,000 persons were out of work in 1933, about one-fourth of a civilian labor force of over fifty-one million. The CP declared those out of work to be “the tactical key to present the state of the class struggle.” Party organizers concentrated on direct action in the streets and relief offices, seeking out opportunities for leafleting and pamphleteering as well as inciting mass actions and agitation. While the Great Depression skyrocketed the unemployment rate, it helped create pro labor laws that strengthened the union force. The act established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to punish unfair labor practices and to organize elections when employees wanted to form unions. Joint rallies comprised progressive trade unions, communist activists and alliances of communities. This topic is important because it affected the way workers are treated. Conferences of unions and fraternal organizations were called in a number of states to plan further campaigns for the Workers’ Bill. Unionization rates also vary greatly from state to state, from nearly 25% in New York to less than 4% in the Carolinas. In 1934, there were over ___ strikes in the U.S. Huey Long (Kingfish) ... Why were German soldiers willing to … The history of labor unions in the United States begins before the Civil War, but mostly comprised the last 120 years when the AFL (now AFL-CIO) and the railroad brotherhoods built strong permanent unions.. Unless unions rethink how they represent workers they will remain irrelevant to 21st-century employees. While the Works Project Administration did provide jobs, the actual number of jobs fell short of the number promised. The tremendous gains labor unions experienced in the 1930s resulted, in part, from the pro-union stance of the Roosevelt administration and from legislation enacted by Congress during the early New Deal. Thousands of them joined the CP. Rising anger led to defiance and resistance. http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/depwwii/unions/, http://depts.washington.edu/depress/strikes_unions.shtml. Virtually identical state versions of H.R. One of the most important was the Knights of Labor, which inaugurated the Labor Day holiday in 1882. Organization leaders conducted work stoppages and demonstrations on WPA projects, protesting layoffs and demanding more adequate security wages. Entire families contributed to the production of goods (see History of Childhood). The Washington State Labor … The percentage of workers belonging to a union (or “density”) in the United States peaked in 1954 at almost 35% and the total number of union members peaked in 1979 at an estimated 21.0 million. The ___ was the most important appliance in the American home in the 1930s. The Wagner Act, in particular, legally protected the right of unions to organize. But these groups gathered momentum from direct action victories that yielded public assistance money and food and stopped evictions. The impact this depression had  was great, and influenced many aspects of society. : Why they Succeed, how they Fail ” by Frances Fox Piven and Cloward!, most of us might all still be earning minimum wage with no apparent relation to unemployment, are! Can be traced back to the production of goods ( see History of Childhood ) economic situation deplored. The Knights of labor, which fought courageously against the tyranny of the working. 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