Labor History

Nicole Gaethke

Conditions Pre-Unions and Why Unions Were Formed

Unions were formed to help protect and expand workers rights. They struck back against the companies and employers that abused these rights. Workers fought for wages, work hours, safety and health conditions, and benefits. Working together as a union helps the higher power hear them out more. Prior to labor unions, workers worked under harsh and extreme working conditions. They suffered with low wages, long work days, and a dirty environment. They worked through harsh weather and temperatures. Employees were required to work often when injured or sick. The places they worked often were seen as unsafe. The unions helped turn these conditions around.

Labor History in Wisconsin

The nation's first modern trade union was created in 1865 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was known as the Molders Union Local 125. One day after the Haymarket Riot protesters went on strike against Bay View Rolling Mills and seven people were killed. A union group called the Knights of St. Crispin was started in Milwaukee and grew to be the nation's largest union. The Wisconsin State Federation of Labor started in 1893. It was formed to deal with issues such as child labor, work safety, work hours, and worker compensation. Wisconsin was one of the states that was most unionized. The unions led the workers to receive better wages and working conditions. The union movement led to an increase in the involvement of order coalitions. The labor movement provided a large voice to help protect workers rights. It tells us that people are moved to better improve worker life in the future.

Labor History of the United States

Laborers have been in existence for a long time, even when the first slaves and indentured servants came to America. Many of the first unions fought for what they wanted but then broke apart after getting their way. Printers in New York City came together in 1778 to up their wages and then the group ended. The Industrial Revolution had a large impact on labor unions. As industry advanced, so did the need for laborers. Laborers often found themselves to be mistreated. During this time period labor unions such as the National Labor Union, the Knights of Labor, and the American Federations of Labor (AFL) were formed. The Pullman Railroad Strike was led by a group of workers but was ended by the government. The U.S Department of Labor was established in 1913 in order to protects the rights of these workers. After the Clayton Anti-trust Act was passed and legalized strikes and boycotts, more labor unions were developed. The Great Depression led to a significant decrease in the wages of workers. Acts, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, was passed to set specific standards. During World War II, many labor unions reached the decision to eliminate strikes while the war was going on. The unions increased again after the war was over. In 1949, child labor was prohibited. Because America's workers united to fight for what they believed in, many of the problems they dealt with were solved.

Conditions of Unions Today

Though labor unions are still in existence today, they are not as popular or noticeable as in the past. Labor Unions still work to protect our nation's workforce. The AFL continues to be America's most common labor union. They continue to fight for the same reasons as they were in the past. Due to the current economy today, may workers find themselves being laid off or having a decrease in their wages. Workers are worried about how they are going to make a living for themselves and their families. They wish to keep good health insurance, safety, and benefits. They are fighting to make sure our country doesn't fall back to its old ways. Labor Unions today are helping to improve the quality of an American's daily life. Wisconsin's has been on dependent on labor unions lately due to Governor Scott Walker. Many employees joined together and went on strike due to Walker's pay cuts. They demanded Walker be revoked of his position, but as a re-vote was taken, he was elected yet again. The economy being in bad conditions, has led workers fighting for wages and better working conditions.

Works Cited

"Labor Unions: The Life and Death of the Middle Class." Chronicles of Delusion. N.p., 27 Feb. 2011. Web. 20 Dec. 2012. <http://chroniclesofdelusion.net/2011/02/27/labor-unions-the-life-and-death-of-the-middle-class/>.


"Labor Unions Today." Union Plus. Union Privilege, 2012. Web. 20 Dec. 2012. <http://www.unionplus.org/about/labor-unions/today>.


Murray, Grant W. "A Brief History of Labor Unions in the United States." N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2012

<http://ellerbruch.nmu.edu/classes/cs255w02/cs255students/GMURRAY/p11/history.pdf>.


"Union Blues." The New Yorker. N.p., 7 Mar. 2011. Web. 20 Dec. 2012. <http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2011/03/07/110307taco_talk_hertzberg>


"Wisconsin's Role in Labor History." Wisconsin's Role in Labor History. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2012. <http://www.carpentersunion.org/site/epage/87962_837.htm>.