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An introduction to the history of legislated union in the united states

Notes Labor unions have been defined as "private combinations of workingmen" that try to increase wages and improve working conditions for members. What means do labor unions use? As Henry George suggests, trade unionists are hardly known for their kindness to strangers and genteel ways.

  • Major developments include increased concern with the widespread use of chemicals and increasing provision for welfare facilities related to employment, including feeding, rest, recreation, and transport facilities;
  • NLRB enforcement of majority elections for union representation;
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act;
  • The typical strike aimed to force employers to pay more than necessary for labor available on the open market;
  • But many countries have made progress in making higher standards of medical care available as a legal right and in converting the guarantee of a basic income as a protection against want into provision for effective income maintenance in the event of unemployment or loss of the family breadwinner.

From colonial times, trade unionists found the going difficult in North America. There was no prevailing ideology of "working-class solidarity," and unions were far from respectable; in fact, they had a well-earned reputation for being antisocial, even criminal.

Some unions were secret societies with secret oaths, and unionists engaged in intimidation, threats, vandalism, and violence, especially against uncooperative workers denounced as subhuman "scabs" and "blacklegs. Courts of law were not fond of union methods either, and employers, consumers, and workers often resisted "militant" unions.

Competition from imported goods made life difficult too. Some workers were intensely anti-union, not just employers.

America was an open society, a frontier society, farm-dominated, sprawling, and free, and wages often were double those paid in England because labor was so scarce here. Although no reliable statistics are available, union membership probably remained below one percent of the work force most years from colonial times to the 1870s.

If a union declared and lost a strike, it usually collapsed and disappeared. Most unions failed during business downturns as jobs, union membership, and revenue declined. While wage rates fell elsewhere in response to depressed business conditions, unions stubbornly insisted on maintaining wage rates "wage rigidity"intensifying their own failure. As nonunion labor became less expensive more "affordable" and induced more hiring, production costs fell, thereby reducing unemployment.

Such wage-price flexibility shortened business downturns by expanding output and employment, thereby acting as "shock absorbers" in the economy.

In the vast sweep of the early American economy, unions were a curiosity rather than a prominent feature, confined largely to skilled trades in big cities and on the railroads. Not until the late 1870s and prosperous 1880s, when political philosophy began to shift toward collectivism and the "progressive era," did national trade unions gain a real foothold.

Colonial Times In the early modern era, the European guild system consisted of tightly regulated local occupational and product monopolies, which never really took hold in North America. Most labor protests, however, were spontaneous actions like that reported in 1763, when, according to the Charleston Gazette, Negro chimney sweeps "had the insolence, by a combination among themselves, to raise the usual prices, and to refuse doing their work.

Philadelphia was a city of labor-union firsts: Union Tactics Trade unions in the early Republic sought monopoly control over the local supply of labor with the "closed shop," an arrangement requiring employers to hire union members only. Selective admission to apprenticeships restricted membership, thereby artificially limiting the supply of skilled labor for hire and placing upward pressure on wage rates.

As in England, threats and violence accompanied strikes. The typical strike aimed to force employers to pay more than necessary for labor available on the open market.

A History of Labor Unions from Colonial Times to 2009

The silent corollary was that everyone — union member or no — must "strike" too, that is, withhold his or her labor, willing or not, and refuse employment at pay less than that demanded by strikers. Alternatively, the employer had to be intimidated and decisively discouraged from hiring replacement workers "strikebreakers". A union warning from the 1830s suggests how unions discouraged interlopers: Local culture and ideology play a large role because the response of local police, courts, and politicians to union aggression is pivotal.

By 1810, union tactics were fully formed: But how could threatened collective violence and actual violence by adversarial-style unions square with the right of each person to seek his or her best opportunity, free of interference?

To strike a bargain for lawful employment, a right firmly entrenched in custom and law? It could not be. Union coercion is incompatible with individual freedom of contract, an ugly truth ignored by most labor writers. But, as Mises wrote, "Actually labor union violence is tolerated within broad limits…the authorities, with the approval of public opinion, condone such acts.

According to some legal doctrines, unions were "criminal conspiracies in restraint of trade" and illegal combinations to fix prices for labor services.

These issues were tested in the state courts from 1806 through 1842.

  • Some unions were secret societies with secret oaths, and unionists engaged in intimidation, threats, vandalism, and violence, especially against uncooperative workers denounced as subhuman "scabs" and "blacklegs;
  • The main regulatory features of the act were as follows.

In the famous 1806 criminal prosecution of the Philadelphia cordwainers shoemakersCommonwealth v. Only 18 unionists were convicted on conspiracy charges when this doctrine was at its peak. Hunt, ruled the bootmakers' union a lawful association with a lawful right to organize and collectively withhold labor "strike". The courts did not go so far as to authorize threats and violence by unions as legitimate "weapons of labor" during strikes, but, as Mises pointed out, law enforcement was and is lax in many labor disputes.

The state thereby fails in its alleged basic purpose, to protect life, property, and individual liberty against private aggression. Some were secret societies with names like the Knights of St. Crispin, the Molly Maguires, and the Knights of Labor. Yet the main adhesive of British and European unions — easily aroused class antagonisms — was absent in America, and Marxist-style sentiments about the plight of the working class never became the dominant mood, contrary to some historical accounts.

Labour law

More often, American pubic opinion was horrified and disgusted by outbreaks of labor violence and union disruption of production, especially if the outbursts had revolutionary overtones. Eventually, one form of unionism emerged as a survivor in this unfavorable environment.

  1. Southwestern, 1995 , pp. Legally speaking, the individual contract of employment plays a more important role in the civil-law countries than in common-law countries.
  2. Yale, 1949 , p.
  3. Unions bitterly complain that uniquely American management resistance, legal as well as illegal, has thwarted employees' desire to unionize.

The underlying idea was to accept the capitalist wage, price, and political system and achieve marginal gains for members within it. Consequently, the ambitions of social visionaries and leftist radicals who saw unions as a vehicle for radical change gradually fell by the wayside. Union membership in the early 1890s was barely 200,000, but as the economy expanded after the Panic of 1893 unions found more effective methods of organization, and membership hit 447,000 in 1897.

Given the formula for national craft unionism, unions grew to a modest share of the labor force without enormous government intervention, aside from laxity toward union threats and the actual use of violence. Only a dozen unions claimed more than 10,000 members.

The largest union was the Locomotive Engineers with 30,000 members; the Cigarmakers were second with 28,300. Samuel Gompers, the most famous president of the AFL, for example, came from the Cigarmakers, which disappeared in a merger with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union in the 1970s.

While unions existed in many trades at the close of the century, they did organize a substantial share of employment in few instances, mainly construction, railroads, printing, and the postal service. Only the railroad and postal unions were direct beneficiaries of pro-union federal legislation. Although 17 state legislatures passed laws during the 1880s and 1890s prohibiting employers from firing employees for belonging to or joining unions, reflecting an emerging pro-union political climate during this period, a prelude to the "Progressive Era.

This was the "Progressive Era" of 1900 through 1918 which fastened a welfare-warfare state on America which has set the mold for the rest of the twentieth century…because a unique set of conditions had destroyed the Democrats as a laissez-faire party and left a power vacuum for the triumph of the new ideology of compulsory cartelization through a partnership of big government, business, unions, technocrats, and intellectuals. From 1842 onward, unions had the clear legal right to exist, and workers could join such "self-help" organizations, but employers were under no obligation to "bargain" with these unions.

The courts also tended ultimately to restrict union tactics such as threats of violence, violence itself, mob action, and interference with voluntary trade. Further, the courts tended to make little distinction between business and union "restraints on competition. Loewe and Company 1908 were in restraint of trade under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, and fined individual union members responsible for the union's acts unions never incorporated lest they be held liable as an organization for damages they caused.

  1. Neither law tampered with the basic privileges and immunities previously granted to organized labor.
  2. The Taft-Hartley Act outlawed union practices such as jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, political "solidarity" strikes, secondary boycotts, "common situs" picketing, closed shops, and money donations by unions to federal political campaigns. The number of strikes suddenly doubled between 1932 and 1933 to 1,695 and then continued climbing to a 1930s peak of 4,740 in 1937.
  3. It may also involve certain aspects of promotion, transfer, and dismissal procedures and compensation. Labour law has won recognition as a distinctive branch of the law within the academic legal community , but the extent to which it is recognized as a separate branch of legal practice varies widely depending partly on the extent to which there is a labour code or other distinctive body of labour legislation in the country concerned, partly on the extent to which there are separate labour courts or tribunals, and partly on the extent to which an influential group within the legal profession practice specifically as labour lawyers.
  4. In addition to the individual contractual relationships growing out of the traditional employment situation, labour law deals with the statutory requirements and collective relationships that are increasingly important in mass-production societies, the legal relationships between organized economic interests and the state, and the various rights and obligations related to some types of social services.
  5. Samuel Gompers hailed the Clayton Act as labor's Magna Carta, but subsequent court interpretations neutered the prounion provisions. As economic and educational progress and changed social habits limited child labour in the industrialized countries and increasingly in the modernized sectors of developing economies, the special concern of labour law with regard to the young shifted to such areas as vocational guidance and training, career planning and advancement, and medical protection.

Unionists therefore prominently demanded governmental privilege and mounted persistent and intensive campaigns for favorable legislation. In 1914, Congress passed the Clayton Act with provisions to exempt unions from the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act, restrict the use of court injunctions in labor disputes and declare picketing and similar union tactics as not unlawful.

Samuel Gompers hailed the Clayton Act as labor's Magna Carta, but subsequent court interpretations neutered the prounion provisions.

The "national emergency" of US entry into World War I provided much of the experience and precedent for subsequent intervention on behalf of unionism, as well as for other cartel-like policies.

Leuchtenburg, for instance, points out, "The panoply of procedures developed by the War Labor Board and the War Labor Policies Board provided the basis in later years for a series of enactments culminating in the Wagner National Labor Relations Act of 1935.

Roosevelt who represented the United States Navy on the board, proclaimed governmental support of unions and enforced pro-union measures on industry. The government even created a union, the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, and forced lumbermen to join in its battle against the radical leftist Industrial Workers of the World IWW, known as the "Wobblies".

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The Loyal Legion collapsed after the war despite government efforts to keep it alive, while others became so-called company or independent unions, subsequently banned by the 1935 Wagner Act. Baruch and Army General Hugh S. But peacetime help was not far off. The first durable help for "private-sector" unionism was the Railway Labor Act of 1926. The labor disputes that erupted periodically on the railroads were highly visible, violent, unpopular, and politically embarrassing.

Although the interstate commerce clause of the United States Constitution, as interpreted then, restricted the ability of the national government to intervene in most economic affairs, Congress had the unchallenged power to regulate interstate commerce. A sequence of federal laws beginning in 1888 regulated railway labor matters, and Congress passed the 1926 law in almost the identical form agreed on by the major railroads and unions.

The act, amended in 1934, essentially dictated collective bargaining for all interstate railroads and set up machinery for governmental intervention in labor disputes.

This was an obvious example of monopoly intervention on behalf of an industry. The already unionized railroads found it comfortable to impose compulsory collective bargaining on all interstate railroads, some of which had resisted union pressure better than others. The Interstate Commerce Commission ICCin turn, fixed freight rates for railroads based on "costs," which were higher because of unions.

The History Of Unions In The United States

Thus railroad wage and price determination was transferred from the marketplace to the political arena. This avalanche of legislation to entrench unions was hastened by the prevailing doctrine of 1920s business leaders, that "high and rising wages were necessary to a full flow of purchasing power and, therefore, to good business," which was followed by its corollary, that "'reducing the income of labor is not a remedy for business depression, it is a direct and contributory cause.

If it were otherwise, rather than producing themselves rich, nations could simply declare all good things cheap and all wages high, and thus abolish poverty with pious hopes. This bill passed in 1931 following a sharp decline in construction activity at the beginning of the Great Depression. Many contractors and building trade unions welcomed the law to protect themselves from the competition of what one congressman called "carpetbagging sharpie contractors.

The clearly stated intent was to protect local workers and contractors from the competition of outsiders.

  • As employment opportunities for women became more varied and responsible, there was a similar shift in emphasis from protective legislation—which came to be regarded as discriminatory, since it tended to limit such opportunities—to legal guarantees of equal pay and equal employment, coupled with adequate maternity protection and the provision of facilities to enable women with family responsibilities to continue to be employed;
  • There are 22 states, all in the south and west, with right-to-work laws.

The ambiguity of prevailing wages gave the United States Department of Labor scope to set minimum wage rates at union wages in about half of its wage determinations. This has cost taxpayers at least a billion dollars per year in higher construction and administrative costs.

Since 1931, Congress has extended the prevailing wage provision to include most federally assisted construction, whether state, local, or national government is the direct purchaser. Additional amendments in 1964 added fringe benefits to prevailing wage calculations.

The effect of the Labor Department's administration of the law is not to protect local contractors from competitors but to dish out government work to high-cost contractors and the building-trades unions. Construction workers are among the highest paid in America, earning twice the hourly rate of employees in retail trade.

Most states passed "little Davis-Bacon" Acts to further unionize the construction industry and "build expensive. It was the culmination of a 50-year union campaign against "government by injunction. The overriding object of the act was to free organized labor from the constraints that bind businessmen and others, allowing unions more scope to use their aggressive and violent tactics. The number of strikes suddenly doubled between 1932 and 1933 to 1,695 and then continued climbing to a 1930s peak of 4,740 in 1937.

This outburst of strikes occurred during a period of deep depression and massive unemployment, while previous business downturns had always diminished strike activity and caused many unions to disappear. As Hayek summed it up, "We have now reached a state where [unions] have become uniquely privileged institutions to which the general rules of law do not apply.

The National Industrial Recovery Act was among the many Roosevelt interventions to boost prices and wage rates on the mistaken theory that falling wages and prices were causing the depression rather than being market-driven adjustments to re-coordinate the economy and restore production and employment.