The history of labor unions dates back the late 1700’s. Without strong leadership, workers were rarely able to improve their wages or working conditions. However, as effective leaders began to emerge, labor became a force demanding to be recognized by business and the government. Change came slowly, but through the efforts of some forward-thinking union leaders, a great deal of change in the world of labor was finally achieved.
Historical Legal Status of Unions
Trace the evolution of the legal status of American unions. What activities were restricted by laws and courts? Did constraints increase or decline with time?
Early organized labor had no support from the government and was frequently eliminated by legislation and court decisions. The “conspiracy doctrine” of the late 1700’s determined most collective activities to be in violation of the public’s best interests and therefore illegal (Fossum, 2012, p. 29). As pointed out by Fossum (2012), organized trade and industry labor had limited success in obtaining more favorable wages and work hours during the early 1800’s, but courts continued to interfere with most collective activities. During the second half of the 19th century, the National Labor Union, the Knights of Labor, and the American Federal of Labor experienced some success using strikes, arbitration, and negotiation by union representatives (Fossum, 2012). However, economic instability resulted in government-ordered use of law enforcement, federal troops, violence, and threats of federal criminal charges to halt union activities (Fossum, 2012). The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 further limited collective action by forcing unions to pay punitive damages for their activities which were determined to res...
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Colorado State University-Global Campus. (2013). Module 1 – Evolution of American labor [Blackboard ecourse]. In MGT 516 – Employee and labor relations (p. 1-3). Greenwood Village, CO: Author.
Fossum, J. (2012). Labor relations: Development, structure, process. (11th ed.). McGraw‐Hill. ISBN: 978‐0078029158
Labor Party. (2012). A call for economic justice: The Labor Party's program. Retrieved from http://thelaborparty.org/d_program.htm
Lewis, D. L., & Brown, N. L. (1968). America's greatest labor leaders. Management of Personnel Quarterly (Pre-1986), 7(3), 32-39. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/195875229?accountid=38569
Wheeler, H. (2004). Producers of the world unite! A return of reformist unionism?. Labor Studies Journal, 29(3), 81-100.
Yellowitz, I. (1989). Samuel Gompers: A half century in labor's front rank. Monthly Labor Review, 112(7), 27.
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