History of Labor

By: Kyra Grandall

Conditions Pre-Union

The laborers worked 10 hour days 6 days a week, unskilled workers got paid $1 to $1.50 a day, and skilled workers got 2 times that. Women and children and African Americans got a lot less, accidents were very common and pretty much ignored. There were also dangerous work conditions, dirty work environments and they were labored under extreme temps.

Why Unions Formed

The first strong labor unions were formed in the 1820s. Unions were formed because of the cruel work conditions of the laborers, the low pay, and the danger of the work place. They were also created to help the workers with work related difficulties. The businesses of the time were frustrated with unions because they started regulations and strikes. This made the businesses upset and they many times had to go into lock out against their workers.

Examples of Unions

  • The Knights of Labor
  • American Federation of Labor
  • American Railway Union
  • Wisconsin State Employees Union

Conditions Post Formation of Unions

After the unions were formed conditions in the work place slowly but surely got better. Unions caused strikes, boycotts, and lockouts. After awhile unions got businesses to switch to 8 hour work days, better work conditions, safer work area, less injury, better pay, less work days, and benefits. It took awhile to accomplish the goals of the unions and they are still working on some of the struggles yet today.

History of Unions in Wisconsin

Unions in Wisconsin were started in 1865. In 1867, the Knights of St. Crispin which was a union of shoemakers became nation’s largest union and also became a part of the Panic of 1873. In 1886, 7 workers were killed due to a peaceful march that was requesting 8 hour days. In 1893, the State Federation of Labor was founded. In 1935 the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union was established in Madison, now it is one of the largest unions.

The labor unions have always struggled and will continue to struggle.

Current State of Unions in Wisconsin and the United States

In 2011 there was 339,000 workers belonging to unions in Wisconsin. Those unions members covered 13.3 percent of wage and salary workers. Besides those 339,000 workers there are 19,000 wage and salary workers were designated by a union of their own job or business, or were under a employee association or contract. Wisconsin has union membership numbers above the U.S. average.