Labor movement, movement to organize industrial workers and improve their working conditions. The need for organized labor did not occur until the late 19th century when the poorly treated and underpaid unskilled labor force—including children under 16 years old—in urban areas reached 40%. A secret society made upof Philadelphia garment workers, the Knights of Labor (1869), organized both skilled and unskilled laborers. This group declined by the 1880s after an unsuccessful strike against the railroad tycoon Jay Gould (1886).
In 1881 the predecessor of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) had its beginning. It was organized by specific craft unions, not workers as a whole; therefore unskilled workers were not represented. This loose federation consisted of the iron workers, molders, printers, carpenters, glass workers, and cigar makers. Samuel Gompers, its leader from the cigar makers group, proposed a 3-point program: practical benefits of higher wages and better working conditions, federalism allowing each union considerable internal freedom to organize and operate according to its own needs and style, and non-federally involved collective bargaining that also rewarded politicians who held pro-Union opinions and defeated those that did not.
Despite the successful beginning of the AFL, labor organizers faced employers reluctant to recognize and work with unions; blacklisting (agreement between companies not to hire pro-union workers orto hire those who signed anti-union documents called yellow dog contracts), and court injunctions, which usually resulted in pro-management decisions. It was not until the failure of business in the Great Depression and the New Deal policy of President Franklin Roosevelt that union organization and workers' rights found widespread support.
The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) helped with a favorable attitude in Congress, launched a campaign to organize great industries such as steel, automobiles, oil, and rubber—over the bitter opposition of the managements of these corporations. Federal legislation favored both sides: the Wagner Act (1935), which protected the right for unions to organize and participate in collective bargaining—negotiations between management and elected union officials—and the Taft-Hartley Act (1947), which protected non-union workers and allowed the Attorney General to suspend strikes after 90 days.
In 1955, headed by George Meany (president of the AFL), the AFL and CIO merged to represent an organized labor voice before Congress and a strong united stand against industry. Not all unions became or remained members of this federation—such as the automobile workers headed by former CIO head Walter Reuther—due to political differences. Using AFL-CIO guidelines, unions and collective bargaining have become an essential part of U.S. industry. The groups elected to represent workers follow procedures for negotiations with management on wages, hours, pensions and health insurance, seniority rights of workers, and grievance procedures. When agreement is reached, a contract is signed by both sides—often to cover a 2 to 3 year period. If agreement cannot be reached by both parties, a neutral third party called a mediator suggests solutions. If a mediator cannot bring both parties to agreement, a specialist called an arbitrator hears both sides and renders a binding decision to which both sides must adhere.
Since the 1880s unions have helped to increase hourly wages, to reduce the length of the work week, to increase worker safety, provide insurance and pensions, and to support paid vacation and holiday time for workers. New and important unions have been established since the AFL-CIO merger, such as the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) in the 1960s, led by the Mexican-American labor leader Cesar E. Chavez of California.
21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia - Kitty Hawk to Lange, David Russell