If you’ve been listening to the GOP at all during the past four years, you’ll have definitely learned that unionized labor is one of the most despicable parts of our history. Unfortunately for the millions of workers who shake their fist at unions in agreement, though, there are many things that all American workers take for granted every single day, and it’s all thanks to those damned unions.
ThinkProgress has some informative sources about the history of labor unions. This Labor Day, let’s all remember some of the things that unions fought for us to have:
Abolished child labor. In 1881, the National Consumers’ League and National Child Labor Committee successfully won the battles against big business and put an end to child labor through a resolution that banned children under 14 years old from all gainful employment.
Fair wages and income equality. TP wrote a great article illustrating how the decline of unions over the past half century has paralleled a decline in the middle class’s share of national income. When union membership in America was at all-time high (between 1940 and 1950) income inequality was at its lowest point in the history of our country.
Employer-based health coverage. It was in the late 30s and early 40s that unions started banding workers together in order to negotiate health coverage plans, and by 1942, the National War Labor Board allowed companies to circumvent wage caps by offering their employees health insurance. Health coverage also offset the rising cost of private health insurance plans, giving workers more incentives to work for the job and giving unions more power to recruit workers.
The Family and Medical Leave Act. This 1993 law requires state agencies and private employers (>50 employees) to provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave annually for workers to care for a newborn, newly adopted child, seriously ill family member or for the worker’s own illness.
The 8-hour workday and weekends. All of the union battles set the stage for the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which was the first federal regulation for child labor and set standards for minimum wages, coverage, and most importantly, employer liability.
Want to learn more about the history of the labor movement? Keep reading!
History of the Labor Movement
Labor Day is an important holiday that is supposed to remind us of all the improvements the labor movement accomplished. In America, the most crucial steps in workers’ rights happened at the turn of the 20th century, as the Industrial Revolution was in full swing and businesspeople were reaping handsome profits from unexploited industries. But as businesses were getting bigger and bigger, the gap between the owners and the workers was growing larger and larger, causing a lack of communication and, more importantly, a lack of concern.
Health issues in the workplace became abundant, and although voluntary guidelines had been established for worker safety, it wasn’t until the years leading up to World War II and then during the war that the American workforce started to have a voice in the capitalist system.
As a result of an increasing demand for worker safety, labor unions attracted workers from all walks of life, and in 1970, Congress recognized the importance of unionized labor and the protections it gave the individual worker by passing the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The working class developed new forms of organic solidarity, working for businesses that expanded into multinational corporations.
At the heart of it all, people were tired of working in jobs that were unsafe. Our free-market economy not only allowed businesses to grow and prosper, it also allowed corporations to put profits ahead of people’s safety and welfare. Government intervention was the only way to protect the working class. This socially progressive mentality of protecting an economic minority from a corporate majority is the reason why social welfare policies are put into place that all employers have to abide by, creating a true state of welfare capitalism.
Some of the legislation that we can thank the labor movement for:
- The Occupational Health and Safety Act
- Right to Work, Article 23 and 24
- Adamson Act
- Fair Labor Standards Act
If it weren’t for organized labor, companies in a recession could offer to hire anyone with no experience for $1 per hour. Personally, I’ve been in a place in life where I would have taken it – I know for a fact that there are people right now who would gladly work for pennies. This is not the way a developed country should be, and fortunately, after centuries of fighting uphill battles, it’s not the way it is. There’s still a long way to go, but today we should celebrate how far this country has come thanks to labor unions.