Essay about Labor Unions

Essay about Labor Unions

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Labor Unions


Labor Unions: Aging Dinosaur or Sleeping Giant? The Labor Movement and Unionism Background and Brief History Higher wages! Shorter workdays! Better working conditions! These famous words echoed throughout the United States beginning in “1790 with the skilled craftsmen” (Dessler, 1997, p. 544). For the last two-hundred years, workers of all trades have been fighting for their rights and “seeking methods of improving their living standards, working conditions, and job security” (Boone, 1996,p.287). As time went by, these individuals came to the conclusion that if they work together collectively, they would grow stronger to get responses to their demands. This inspired into what we know today as labor unions. “A labor union is an organized group of workers whose purpose is to increase wages and influence other job conditions for its members” (Parkin, 1998,p.344). These labor unions can be divided into two types: craft unions and industrial unions (World, 1998). A craft union is “a union whose membership is restricted to workers who possess an identifiable skill” (Robinson, 1985,p. 69). These members tend to be better educated and trained, and more unified because of common interests (World, 1998). An example of a craft union is the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (World, 1998). On the other hand, an industrialized union “is a group of workers who have a variety of skills and job types but work for the same industry” (Parkin, 1998, p. 344). Unions of this type include the United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers, and the United Transportation Union (Boone, 1996). History from the 1870’s to 1900’s. The first national union founded in Philadelphia in 1869 in the pre-Civil War period was the Knights of Labor, which “intended to include all workers” (Encyclopedia, 1996, p. 630). For a decade, this organization grew at a slow pace due to operating in secrecy until the failure of railroad strikes that increased membership to over 700,000 in 1886 (Robinson, 1985). Their advance and efforts had persuaded legislation to enact the following laws: “abolition of convict-made goods, establishment of bureaus of labor statistics, and prohibition of the importation of European labor under contract” (Encyclopedia, 1996, p. 630). In 1890, the Knights of Labor membership had declined to only 100,000 members and the number of members continu...


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...oney on trying to crush organizing plans than they did even a decade ago. Given this, Sweeney has called on all unions to keep pace and spend more on organizing (AFL-CIO sets aside…, 1999). Sweeney also called on members to give less to political parties and more to the organizing effort, hoping that registering a target of 4 million new union family voters will restore labor’s political clout (Germond & Witcover, 1997). Besides devoting more money to where it needs to go, Sweeney is also taking steps to appeal to minorities and women. He increased the AFL-CIO Executive council to 54 members, up from 35 members. In doing that, he named many women and minorities, expanding their share on the Executive Council from 17% to 27%. Along with reaching to women and minorities, he is reaching to young people. His administration recruited over a thousand young adults to “Union Summer” internship programs where they developed skills and expertise on issues relating to labor (Milkman, 1998). Couple that with $40 million spent on new “feel good” commercials aimed at improving the looks of unions to the general public (Zapenski, 1997), and Mr. Sweeney seems to be doing al

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