Labor History

Kortney Kirking

Working Conditions Before Unions

Workers had a 10 to 12 hour work day. They worked for low wages and many children worked too. Women and children worked for half of the pay men received. The working environments were not safe especially for unskilled workers. Many companies they worked for would own the towns. They set up company towns and workers were given vouchers for their salary. The vouchers were to pay for their food and other living expenses. These vouchers could only be used in the company town even if the prices were higher than outside the town.

Why Unions Were Formed

Unions were formed to help build a better working life for current workers and for the workers of future generations. Workers pushed for 8 hour work days and to end child labor. They also pushed for equal hours for equal pay. They wanted to educate workers and to have safer working conditions.

Examples of Unions in the United States

The Knights of Labor was one of the first successful early unions founded in 1869. It was opened to all workers including African Americans, women, and farmers. The union grew slowly until they succeeded in facing down the great baron, Jay Gould, in an 1885 strike. Within a year, 500,000 workers joined the union. This union pushed for 8 hour work days, equal pay for equal work, and to end child labor.


The American Federation was founded by Samuel Gompers in 1866. Before forming this union, Gompers was a leader in the National Cigar Makers Union. The American Federation labor union was only for skilled workers. They wanted to increase wages, reduce hours, and improve working conditions. They wanted to get rid of child labor because they only wanted skilled workers working.

Conditions After Unions Were Formed

Unions gave workers the freedom to state their opinion on the job. They also helped negotiate fair benefits towards their wages and hours. Unions made safer workplace environments. They also gave more training to employees for more skilled workers. Later on unions provided health insurance to workers.


Labor History in Wisconsin

Unions were made to make Wisconsin a better state. Unions helped make workers better educated and provided a higher quality life for citizens. One of the first unions in Wisconsin was formed in 1865. Local 125 was formed in Milwaukee as part of the Molders Union which was the nation's first modern trade union. Shoemakers in Milwaukee founded the union called the Knights of St. Crispin in 1867. This union grew to 50,000 members, and it became one of the largest unions until it died in 1873. During a campaign for 8 hour work days, Milwaukee workers shut down most industrial plants during the first five days. Several thousand workers marched toward Bay View Rolling Mills which was the city's largest employer. While marching, the police fired at the crowd, killing seven workers. This came one day after the Haymarket Affair in Chicago. The two events had made everyone aware of how all the workers wanted 8 hour workdays. These events helped make it so we have 8 hour workdays and helped create better working environments.

Current Conditions of Unions Today

Today union power is decreasing. Unions don't have a lot of power anymore, so many people are choosing not to be a part of a union. Unions negotiate good wages and benefits for their workers, and now they often end up being matched even by nonunion employers. In 1973 almost a quarter of employees were union members, but just last year it was down by 7.4 percent.



Just a while ago in Wisconsin, governor Scott Walker has taken away many union worker's rights. Several union workers are unable to bargain their pay or how many hours they work. He made it so every year workers have to vote the union back into existence. This could lead to unions being shut down from union workers giving into the pressure from other non union workers. Union members could eventually give up and unions would then no longer exist.

Work Cited