A labor union is an organization of workers that is formed for the sole purpose of protecting the welfare and rights of its members and advancing their interests with regard to achieving collective workplace goals such as improved benefits, increased wages, and better working conditions.
Development of Labor Unions in U.S
In the U.S., the development of labor unions started in a reaction to the social and economic effect of the industrial revolution. Nationwide labor unions formed after the civil war era. The labor movement grew due to the need to safeguard the common interests for the workers especially in the industrial sector. The labor unions fought for reasonable working hours, better pay, and safer working conditions. The labor unions also helped to put an end to child labor, and improved health benefits to workers especially if they were injured in the line of duty.
Issues faced by workers
During the industrial revolution period, workers were faced with various challenges. These challenges were based on exploitation by their employers. Some of the challenges they faced included receiving very little pay from their employers and they had to endure very long working hours that went for up to fourteen hours a day.
Workers demanded for a higher pay from their employers and improvement of their working conditions. They wanted the working conditions to be safer for them to be more productive. Another demand was for shorter working hours of eight hours a day. They also wanted child workers to be protected by the law.
Type of unions that developed
The National Labor Union (NLU) was founded in 1866 and it was not exclusive to any particular type of worker. All workers from the industrial sector and the agricultural sector could join the union. The union persuaded congress to set a legal eight-hour workday. After the NLU, the Knights of Labor was formed in 1869. It had a large membership from all sectors in the country including skilled and unskilled workers, male or female workers, and Caucasian or African-American workers. Its main objectives were to oppose child labor and to reduce the number of working hours to 8 hours a day. Initially, industrial workers worked up to between eleven to fourteen hours every day. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was established in the year 1886. It mostly championed for the increase of wages for its members and improved working conditions for all the workers. The membership was mostly of artisans rather than workers from the industries. Afterwards, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was formed and it merged with its counterpart AFL in the year 1955 and formed the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO is currently still in charge of workers’ welfare across the country.
Economic conditions faced by workers and businesses in the 19th century
The economic boom and bust cycle was experienced in America in the 19th century. This cycle is a process of economic expansion and contraction and it occurs repetitively. During the boom period, the economy grows; employment is created and there is a high return for investors. On the other hand, during the bust, the economy shrinks, many people end up being unemployed and investors lose their money. The bust periods are usually referred to as economic recessions but when the recessions become severe, then it is termed as an economic depression. A huge economic depression was experienced in America during the 19th century from the year 1873. With this depression, the rate of unemployment in the country was high and workers received very low wages. Businesses were also collapsing, as it was difficult for the owners to sustain them effectively.