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Labor Union History - Essay Example

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Labor Union History

Labor unions became prominent in the aftermath of the Civil War. The National Labor Union was the first US union. Another famous labor union was the American Federation of Labor which was established in the late nineteenth century. It acted as a federation for skilled workers unions. In 1905 the Industrial Workers of the World was formed to represent unskilled workers. There are two umbrella organizations for unions. One of them is AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Federation. They have advocated policies that are beneficial for workers. They also have played an important role in increasing the working conditions of workers. This paper traces the history of American labor unions from World War II till the present era (Vittoz, 45).
The Congress of Industrial Organizations was established by an autocratic person John Lewis. The CIO organized millions of workers in the 1930s. Lewis was a charismatic speaker and strategist whose speeches forced the closure of the coal industry to ensure that his demands were met.
Lewis supported President Roosevelt at the onset of the New Deal. Roosevelt had tremendous appeal with workers. Lewis sent organizers to mobilize thousands of workers to support President Roosevelt. He was one of the main financial supporters of Roosevelt. It is estimated that he contributed over five hundred thousand dollars to Roosevelt's election campaign (Zieger, 65).
Lewis organized trade unions in the...
By organizing steelworkers, Lewis clashed with the AFL. The AFL represented workers from all industries rather than a particular trade (Zieger, 85).
Lewis pushed for a change in the policy of the AFL with regards to industrial organizing. He did this by calling upon leaders of other unions within the AFL. William Green who was the president of AFL opposed Lewis and considered him as an enemy. The CIO was now known as the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Lewis firmly established the organization as a rival federation opposed to the AFL. Lewis's organization provided the financial muscle to the CIO as they organized drives to recruit workers and form trade unions.
Phillip Murray was the protg of Lewis. He was made the head of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee. The UAW conducted the Flint and Chrysler sit-down strikes in the 1930s in which Lewis successfully used negotiations to approve worker demands. The CIO had a total strength of 2,850,000 workers in 1942.

The economic depression of the 1930s caused a decline in the labor union membership. The union movement was also marked by failures to obtain concessions from the mass production industries and to organize the workers. However during the 1930s, the US congress passed legislation during the New Deal. Collective bargaining was allowed by the passing of the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933. Businesses were also required to maintain good relations with trade unions under the 1935 Wagner Act. Prices and wages were stabilized by the National Recovery Administration. A number of regulations were imposed that set price and production standards for all kinds of goods. However this had an adverse impact on the labor unions since employers had to hire people at an expensive ...Show more


Labor unions are associations of workers that strive to improve the economic and working conditions of workers. They use contract negotiations called collective bargaining to negotiate over wages and working conditions. Workers in several industries in the United States are represented by labor unions…
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