Labor Unions

The rise of unionism in the United States is an interesting working class social movement. Presently, the U.S. labor movement suffers from loss of membership, globalization of markets, the shift to a technological industrial base and an increasingly non-liberal political realm. However, unions have a long history in the United States. As early as the late 1800s, local craft unions existed whose members were comprised of carpenters, shoemakers and printers in cities such as Philadelphia, Boston and New York. Many of our modern union techniques and methods were developed in this era, including meeting between workers and employers to discuss labor demands, wage scales, and strikes. As unions continued to grow in membership and power during the 19th century, employers became more resistant to them. Unions suffered from erosion of membership in the early 19th century from the efforts of employers to undermine their power, but unions again rose in power during the 1820s and 1830s. Their ascension came about due to their inclusion in political activities since property qualifications for the right to vote were eliminated. These activities were significant in getting legislation passed that pertained to needs of workers, “These labor organizations were successful in electing their candidates to various public offices, but in general, they failed to attain their aims. Nevertheless, they called the attention of the regular political parties and the public at large to the social and economic inequalities experienced by workers and by so doing helped to shape the course of much future legislation” (Usery and Shiskin 3). Increasing industrialization also created great cities with large numbers of workers who developed associations for mutual benefit.

During the next three decades, the depression, homesteading and other factors kept unionism at bay, but a revitalized industry in the 1840s helped to restore unions to a position of…

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