History Of Labor

By: Bethany Tuma

Conditions of pre- unions

Workers formed unions to voice their interests against their employers, and also against other workers. Rejecting broad alliances along class lines, alliances uniting workers on the basis of their lack of property and their common relationship with capitalists, craft unions followed a narrow strategy, uniting workers with the same skill against both the capitalists and against workers in different trades. By using their monopoly of knowledge of the work process to restrict access to the trade, craft unions could have a strong bargaining position that was enhanced by alliances with other craftsmen to finance long strikes. A narrow craft strategy was followed by the first successful unions throughout Europe and America, especially in small urban shops using technologies that still depended on traditional specialized skills, including printers, furniture makers, carpenters, gold beaters and jewelry makers, iron molders, engineers, machinists, and plumbers. Craft unions' characteristic action was the small, local strike, the concerted withdrawal of labor by a few workers critical to production. Typically, craft unions would present a set of demands to local employers on a "take-it-or-leave-it" basis; either the employer accepted their demands or fought a contest of strength to determine whether the employers could do without the skilled workers for longer than the workers could manage without their jobs.

The craft strategy offered little to the great masses of workers. Because it depends on restricting access to trades it could not be applied by common laborers, who were untrained, nor by semi-skilled employees in modern mass-production establishments whose employers trained them on-the-job. Shunned by craft unions, most women and African-Americans in the United States were crowded into nonunion occupations. Some sought employment as strikebreakers in occupations otherwise monopolized by craft unions controlled by white, native-born males (Washington, 1913; Whatley, 1993).

Why unions were formed

Labor unions were created in order to help the workers with work-related difficulties

such as low pay, unsafe or unsanitary working conditions, long hours, and other

situations. Workers often had problems with their bosses as a result of membership in the

unions. Sometimes the unions organized strikes in order to try to change the conditions

of the workers. Early strikes were rarely successful.

Example(s) of Union(s)

The economy is the sphere in which we produce and buy things.

The state is the sphere in which we govern our collective affairs.

Civil society is the sphere is which we get together voluntarily in organizations to

pursue common purposes.

Conditions post formations of unions

Labor unions have been defined as "private combinations of workingmen" that try to increase wages and improve working conditions for members. But how? What means do labor unions use? Trade unionists are hardly known for their kindness to strangers and genteel ways.

History of unions (WI)

Groups of workers who organized together for the purpose of improving their economic status and working conditions through collective bargaining with their employers. Wisconsin¿s first labor unions were formed in Milwaukee, the bricklayers in 1847 and the carpenters in 1848. Other early unions developed in trades connected to transportation, clothing, and printing. Shoemakers founded the Knights of St. Crispin in 1867, Wisconsin¿s first national trade union organization, which quickly grew to be the largest union in the nation. The Ship Carpenters and Caulkers Association called the first successful strike in 1848, though strikes remained fairly infrequent and small-scale until the later part of the 19th century.

Current state of unions (WI, US)

members of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1967

(Destler and Balint 1999: 15). In the first decades after World War

II, U.S. organized labor was, in the words of trade historian I. M.

Destler (1998: 389), “a consistent and reliable member of the freetrade coalition that found a comfortable home in the Democratic


Labor leaders began to express disenchantment with trade in the

early 1970s as U.S. industry faced increased competition from a resurgent Western Europe and Japan. Machine tools, automobiles, and

consumer electronics such as radios and TVs were industries where

U.S. producers had dominated after World War II but where import

penetration grew. In the face of competition, a growing number of

industries and their unions began to seek import relief by the 1970s