The character of the labor force in the United States of America has changed enormously during the nation’s development from an agrarian society into a contemporary industrial country. Accordingly, the labor movement in the United States of America developed due to a need to protect the general interest of the workers. Thus, American workers gained power over working conditions and the political economy through the labor movement and principally striking, getting government help, and union violence.
First of all, it should be mentioned that the United States of America was regarded as an agricultural nation until late in the 19th century. In that case, the majority of the working force was composed of the unskilled workers who were paid poorly in the early American economy. Accordingly, more than 40 percent of the workers were low-wage. Then, with the development of the plants, the workforce of children, women, and poor immigrants was used to run machines.
As was mentioned above, the labor movement in the United States of America developed due to a need to protect the general interest of the workers. At the same time, the labor movement in the United States of America made significant efforts to prevent child labor, provide the workers with some health and social benefits and give support to the workers who were injured at work or retired. According to Forbath “in the nineteenth-century American, the prevailing attitude of American trade unionists changed so that struggles with the legal order were crucial to reshaping labor’s outlook, driving the labor movement to temper its radical goals.” To demonstrate, in terms of the industrial sector, the organized labor unions were arranged with the aim to fight for more sufficient wages, flexible schedules and safer working environments.
The labor movement has a long history as its origins can be traced in 1768 when the tailors protested a wage reduction in New York. Subsequently, the labor movement in the United States of America was accelerated principally due to the economic depression. Accordingly, the period of the Great Depression can be characterized by the protests against the unemployed. Then, “in 1934, after twelve years of relative quiet on the labor front, industrial conflict broke out with a militancy and violence not seen since 1919.” This industrial conflict raised the power of the union movement and correspondingly developed the so-called “new” immigrant working class.
Given the points mentioned above, it can be assumed that the period between the late 19th century and the 20th century changed the working conditions of Americans in a critical way, mainly due to the substantial industrial growth. For instance, a lot of Americans left jobs in the sector of agriculture to work in factories, which were defined by the strict hierarchy and low wages.
Thus, as the American society and working conditions changed significantly, there developed the labor unions. One of the most popular labor union of that period is the Industrial Workers of the World, established in 1905. The development of the unions provoked notable improvements in working conditions. At the same time, the labor movement also transformed American politics and the entire society of the state.
Under the conditions mentioned above, the labor’s strike effectiveness seems to be undisputed as it has been frequently used to balance the power between employees and employers. Through the strikes, a lot of employees worldwide have gained a lot of benefits such as shorter working hours and safer working conditions. Accordingly, it is considered that strikes have fostered differently new types of worker organization such as industrial unions. Thus, it can be assumed that the strikes have served as incubators for class consciousness, rank-and-file management improvement, and political activism.
Not to mention, sometimes strikes turn violent. For instance, during the early 1800s, most violence related to labor conflicts was done spontaneously by random associations of workers. Accordingly, during the twentieth century, the model of labor conflicts modified so that most violence was made by workers organized into unions. Despite the fact that there are not precise statistical data concerning violent actions performed by labor unions in the United States of America, on different occasions, violence has been committed by unions or the members of a union during the particular labor disputes in the United States of America. In that case, the theories of striking and violence indicate that employers frequently are able to deal with violent strikes effectively.
On the one hand, union violence has been frequently linked to the setting of industrial disturbance. In that case, the incidents of violence have ranged from private actions performed by individuals to more extensive attacks of organized violence intended at advancing union objects within an industrial conflict. On the other hand, anti-union violence has also transpired frequently in cases of industrial unrest. Such incidents have commonly included the participation of management and government officials, private companies, or citizens’ assemblies in organizing violence against unions and the members of unions.
It is considered that the United States of America has had the most violent history of the labor movement than any industrial country in the world. Accordingly, when regional, state or federal leaders try to prosecute union violence, they sometimes discover that employers are unwilling to cooperate, for fear of union retribution. On the contrary, some union supporters consider that labor union violence is justified, particularly in the cases when violence is focused at strikebreakers. Thus, it goes without saying that the violent labor movement changed the character of employment and society in the United States of America.
Subsequently, the resistance between the business owners and unions remains high. It is due to the fact that the workers initially wanted unions for defensive purposes. The unios were developed with the aim to protect the workers against some arbitrary decisions, for instance, unexpected wage decreases, layoffs, or firings. At the same time, unions were required to force managers and business owners to improve the unhealthy working conditions or long working hours. More generally, the workers required more confidence in the workplace, which eventually anticipates a contract that lasts for a specified period of time. In the United States of America, the first trade unionists also needed specific rights at work that they became independent citizens. As a result, with the development of the unions, the requirements for the business owners only raised so that the workers become able to gain power over working conditions and the political economy.
Under the conditions mentioned above, the union power has changed following the opportunities and protection which governments of the United States have given to the unionists. Accordingly, it seems that the government has responded to the shifts in public opinion through the support of unions. For instance, recently there has been developed the so-called anti-union tendency in public management. Nonetheless, it becomes evident that the organized labor movement is one of the most significant political and economic forces nowadays, but its power has waned considerably. It occurs due to the fact that manufacturing has declined significantly so that now more and more workers work on the white-collar posts rather than on the blue-collar industry jobs. Nowadays, the workers are able to adapt to constant changes in the professional environment and the new technologies.
All in all, it can be assumed that the changing economic circumstances gained the unions expanded political participation. As a result, the political engagement of the unions allowed the workers to control some institutional, historical and cultural variables so that the workers become able to change their working conditions and the entire society. In that case, such as activities as striking, getting government help and union violence seems to be the most effective.
Brinker, Paul A. 1985. “Violence By U.S. Labor Unions”. Journal Of Labor Research 6 (4): 417-427. doi:10.1007/bf02685496.
Forbath, William E. n.d. Law And The Shaping Of The American Labor Movement. Harvard University Press.
“Labor’S New Century”. 2018. Accessed October 9.
Von Drehle, David. 2004. Triangle. Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Zieger, Robert H, and Gilbert J Gall. n.d. American Workers, American Unions. 12th ed. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press. http://youtu.be/kWBhP0EQ1lA.