Labor Movement and Unions

LeAnn Downing


In 1862 John D. Rockefeller began investigating the feasibility of entering the oil refining process. Rockefeller devoted himself to increase the efficiency of his oil refining business. He hired his own plumber and bought his own plumbing supplies. He also built his own cooperage shop and made his own barrels for the oil. The methods that Rockefeller used, we would call vertical integration. In February of 1865, Rockefeller bought out the Clark brothers for $72,500 and had complete control of the business. Rockefeller wanted to expand the business so he made partner with his brother, William Rockefeller. They built another refinery in Cleveland named Standard Works and they opened an office in New York City where William was in charge. In 1867, Henry M. Flagler became partner with the brothers as well. Flagler also felt a need for expansion and so the business grew even larger. In 1868 Rockefeller's company was the largest refinery in the world. What Rockefeller did was utilize as many products possible to make his cost of refining oil drop. Most of the money that they were making was put right back into the business to make it larger and make more money. As time went on Rockefeller bought out all of the surrounding oil companies and took them over. With the efficiency of Rockefeller's business, he changed the lives of many people to come by showing them that it can be done easily and his creation of the oil company led to more inventions such as the automobile.
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Knights of Labor

The Knights of Labor was the first important national labor organization in the United States which was founded in 1869. It originated as a secret organization to protect the members from employer retaliations. The original idea was to propose a system of worker cooperatives to replace capitalism. In 1879 the group was no longer under secrecy. The membership of the Knights of Labor grew after the railway strike in 1877. In 1886 the group reached its highest membership yet at 700,000 which made the group the dominant labor organization in the United States. The influence of the Knights of Labor declined shortly after 1886 when there were over 1,000 strikes. The members of the Knights of Labor were unsatisfied which led to the creation of the American Federation of Labor in December 1886. The American Federation of Labor focused on getting economical benefits for its members by using collective bargaining.
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Life in Pullman, Illinois

The industrial town of Pullman, Illinois began in May of 1880. The town was created by George Pullman the President of Pullman's Palace Car Company. Pullman decided to create a town for workers in hopes of avoiding strikes and having a safe environment for his workers. Pullman knew that his town needed to be connected to railroads and big city markets. The structure was made of brick. Pullman's shops manufactured parts that were used in building the town. In 1884 the town was completed with 1,000 homes and public buildings. Each of the buildings had water and gas as well as front and back yards. There was also daily garbage pick up and and maintenance included in the prices. In 1896 Pullman, Illinois was voted the world's perfect town because of what was included.
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Pullman Railroad Strike

The panic in 1893 caused the Pullman Palace Car Company to cut their wages by 25 percent. With the decrease in the amount of money that the employees were making they were unable to afford the cost of living in Pullman because none of their costs were reduced. This commotion cause a strike in 1894 by the members of the American Railway Union. The strike led to a boycott of Pullman cars. The strikes had occurred in 27 different states ranging from Ohio to California. Violence and disputes broke out all over in Chicago. The Governor of Illinois refused to call a militia because he felt for the strikers but the President sent out 2,500 federal troops to stop the violence. Within the week the strikes had ended. The union national council president was convicted of contempt of court and conspiring against commerce. Leaders of industry and organized labor agreed that the Sherman Antitrust Act could be enforced against unions.
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Labor Unions in U.S. Today

The country's most prominent union is the AFLCIO which is a labor federation made up of 54 member unions with over 10 million members. Another major labor federation is the Change to Win which has 7 unions and 6 million workers. Labor unions aren't as prominent as they once were but they still play a part in protecting the workforce. Labor unions monitor and and report any bad working conditions that they think are uncalled for. Labor unions also allow employees to bargain for their wages if they are a victim of discrimination at work. In a sense, Labor unions protect workers from the company they work for to make sure they aren't getting ripped off or being treated unfairly.
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Works Cited

"How Labor Unions Work." HowStuffWorks. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.

"Pullman Strike (United States History)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.

"Historic Pullman Foundation." Historic Pullman Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.

"Knights of Labor (KOL) (American Labour Organization)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.

"American Experience: TV's Most-watched History Series." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.

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