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Evolution Of Labor Unions

Evolution Of Labor Unions What is clearly evident is that the working people of America have had to unite in struggle to achieve the gains that they have accumulated during this century. Improvements did not come easily. Organizing unions, winning the right to representation, using the collective bargaining process as the core of their activities, struggling against bias and discrimination, the working men and women of America have built a trade union movement of formidable proportions. Labor in America has correctly been described as a stabilizing force in the national economy and a bulwark of our democratic society. Furthermore, the gains that unions have been able to achieve have brought benefits, direct and indirect, to the public as a whole.

It was labor, for example, that spearheaded the drive for public education for every child. The labor movement, indeed, has served as a force for American progress. Now, in 2000, as the American trade union movement looks toward its second century, it takes pride in its first century of achievement as it recognizes a substantial list of goals yet to be achieved. In this past century, American labor has played a central role in the elevation of the American standard of living. The benefits which unions have negotiated for their members are, in most cases, widespread in the economy and enjoyed by millions of our fellow citizens outside the labor movement. It is often hard to remember that what we take for granted-vacations with pay, pensions, health and welfare protection, grievance and arbitration procedures, holidays never existed on any meaningful scale until unions fought and won them for working people. Through these decades, the labor movement has constantly reached out to groups in the American society striving for their share of opportunity and the blacks, the Hispanics and other minorities…

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to women striving for jobs and equal or comparable pay . . . to those who work for better schools, for the freedom of speech, press and assembly guaranteed by the Bill of Rights .. to those seeking to make our cities more livable or our rural recreation areas more available . .

. to those seeking better health for infants and more secure status for the elderly. Through these decades, in addition, the unions of America have functioned in an economy and a technology marked by awesome change. When the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions gathered in convention in 1881, Edison had two years earlier invented the electric light, and the first telephone conversation had taken place just five years before. There were no autos, no airplanes, no radio, no television, no air conditioning, no computers or calculators, no electronic games.

For our modest energy needs-coal, kerosene and candies, we were independently self-sufficient. The labor movement has seen old industries die (horse-shoeing was once a major occupation) and new industries mature. The American workforce, once predominantly blue collar, now finds white collar employees and the gray collar people of the service industries in a substantial majority. The workforce in big mass production industries has contracted, and the new industries have required employees with different skills in different locations. Work once performed in the United States has been moved to other countries, often at wage levels far below the American standards.

Multinational, conglomerate corporations have moved operations around the globe as if it were a mammoth chessboard. The once thriving U.S. merchant marine has shriveled. A new kind of growth industry-consultants to management skilled in the use of every legal loophole that can frustrate union organizing, the winning of representation elections, or the negotiation of a fair and equitable collective bargaining agreement-has mushroomed in recent years, and threatens the stability of labor-management relationships. A group of organizations generally described as the new right enlist their followers in retrogressive crusades to develop an anti-union atmosphere in the nation, and to repeal or mutilate various social and economic programs that have brought a greater degree of security and peace of mind to the millions of American wage earners in the middle and lower economic brackets.

Resistance to modest proposals like the labor law reform bill of 1977, and the use of lie detectors and electronic surveillance in probing the attitudes and actions of employees are a reminder that opposition to unions, while changing in style from the practices of a few decades ago, is still alive and flourishing often financed by corporate groups, trade associations and extremist ideologues. Yet through this dizzying process of change, one need remains constant-the need for individual employees to enjoy their human rights and dignity, and to have the power to band together to achieve equal collective status in dealing with multi-million and multi-billion dollar corporations. In other words, there is no substitute for the labor union. American labor’s responsibility in its second century is to adjust to the new conditions, so that it may achieve optimum ability to represent its members and contribute to the evolutionary progress of the American democratic society. There is a question we can ask: What could modern U.S. unions do to increase membership? A fact is that most students or young people have a bad image of labor unions or do not succeed in having their own idea. Maybe, unions should conduct a campaign to make students aware of their functions.

But this the field of public relations. Business.


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