Development of Labor and Trade Union Rights in The USA During 1950-1969

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About this sample


Words: 1854 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: Jan 29, 2019

Words: 1854|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: Jan 29, 2019

In order to consider the period of 1950 – 1969 a key turning point in the development of labour and trade union rights, it must be investigated whether it was of great and widespread, long lasting and leading change. In the period between 1865 and 1992 much of the struggle for trade unions to exist at all, to be recognised as representing their membership and to do so in negotiations with employers for improvements in pay and working conditions. Progress to the achievement of these rights was dependent on a number of factors that at various points served to promote or impede success. The fight for labour rights and trade unions can be roughly split into 3 periods; 1865 – 1914, time before the war, the time between the wars – 1915-45 and post war America. Throughout this age, it can be argued that the labour and trade union rights movement was booming greatly, however it was the most successful, although not long lasting in the period between the wars through which there can be seen an improvement in the position of trade unions.

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It can be seen that the period of 1865 to 1914 was an undeniable period of change and a turning point in the development of labour and trade union rights through widespread, long lasting and leading change, however it cannot be considered a key turning point. This time period set the foundations for further labour and trade union rights movements and it can be argued that is essential to the creation of the current trade unions system, otherwise this movement could have been hindered for a long period. With union leaders such as William Sylvis who promoted the then radical notion of working class solidarity it is undeniable that this time period was leading in promoting the labour and trade union rights movement, hence making it a turning point. Furthermore it can be seen that there was widespread change with the creation of the American Federation of Labor this being considered the most significant development in this period. This was one of the first successful national labour federations seeking to link all unions and become the largest, hence the Federation had over two million members by 1914. Nonetheless, although at first glance this is considerable change, this change was in fact limited. Although the AFL had such a large membership, this only represented a small percentage of national industrial workforce.

Furthermore, some unions, even within the AFL, like the Teamsters Union were sufficiently powerful to retain a degree of independence. Before the formation of the AFL and the short lasting KOL, the fast-growing workforce had no effective representation or protection from exploitation by employers, in fact the reach of trade unions was very limited, as it was only meant for exclusively skilled workers. Moreover, it may be argued that although the change from this time period was leading, it was not long lasting as can be seen by organisation such as the NLU, which was short-lived with the sudden death of Sylvis in 1869 and hence all change was prevented and this event marked the demise of the NLU. Furthermore, this period was a slow advancing age due to events such as the Haymarket Affair which was indicative of the extent of suspicion and animosity generated by the new immigration of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries creating clear divides racial and ethnic lines, hence creating almost exclusive membership of existing unions at local and national level. Hence it can be seen that although this time period was fundamental and leading in the development of labour and trade union rights, it was not as a significant of a turning point as the period 1950-1969.

The period between the two world wars was one of economic extremes that inevitably impacted on workers; this event can be considered a turning point of the highest significance throughout the centuries. It is clear that significant progress was made in recognising the rights of labour, establishing this in law and putting in place the systems and mechanisms to ensure that these laws could operate effectively. Much of this was the New Deal legislation, particularly the National Labour Relations Act of 1935 which represented a turning point in the establishment in law of worker’s rights. However, although the New Deal was significant, many of the acts passed were retracted when declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, such as the National Industry recover Act of 1933 and the National Labour Act of 1935 which both would have brought momentous positive changes. This is further emphasized in post war labour during which the Republicans made it clear that they had no desire the court the support of the unions and their membership when overruling President Truman’s veto on the Taft Hartley Act in order to retain the labour vote as well as the massive wave of strikes at the end of wartime controls. Measured in terms of union membership, the 1930s must be seen as a high point; hence showing the widespread change as Union membership trebled between 1932 and 1939 from just under two million to nine million. The increasing membership also meant that the unions became a political force, the Democrats being particularly keen to attract the vote of organised labour. Nonetheless this widespread change can be question b evidence of the upsurge of nativism. Together with the continued obsessive fear of Communist infiltration, nativism rendered union leaders and any kind of industrial action open to suspicion and accusation of subversion, hence limiting their power and making it harder for minorities to join in the forces. Furthermore the rise of welfare capitalism coupled with “yellow dog contracts” prevented workers from joining trade unions, hence further limiting the possible spread of trade unions. However this time period can still be considered leading as it was for the first time that to some extent, the uneasy balance between workers and employers had swung in favour of the workers. . some degree this was a combination of the post-Depression imperative to reduce unemployment and to stimulate the economy and then necessity for the government to be in control of wartime production, but when peace came in 1945 many of the old tensions between employer and employee reappeared with the federal government playing an often controversial role, hence emphasizing the short term quality of this leading change. Consequently, this period was one of the greatest significance and can be considered a key turning point in contrast to those of earlier and later event, hence disapproving the statement that the period “1950 – 1969 should be seen as a key turning point in the development of labour and trade union rights”.

The era of the workforce ended on a dire note, and although prosperity continued it cannot be said that the period of 1950 to 1969 should be seen as a key turning point in the development of labour and trade union rights. Rapid economic change brought about by the new technology, coupled with new working practices, completely transformed the labour movement. Particularly significant was the decrease in the number of blue – collar workers as a result of automation replacing more and more workers in the steel, coal and automobile industries. In the 1950s, trade union membership in these industries dropped by more than 50%, reflecting the reduction in the size of the workforce resulting from this new technology. This hence shows that the change in this time period was anything but widespread, as the numbers of workers in trade unions dropped. The merger that created the AFL-CIO on the other hand ensured that organised labour was a force to be reckoned with by the end of this period as the organisation increasingly became occupied with the position of semi and unskilled labour. Many facets of discrimination were also confronted in the context of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. However, discrimination remained an issue for African-American labour and for other ethnic groups who sill struggled to gain effective recognition of, and support for, their rights from trade unions. Millions of Americans were I need of a strong labour unions – as late as 196 around 35 million Americans (20% of the population) lived below the poverty line. One-third of the poor lived in depressed rural areas where two million migrant workers lived in extreme poverty. Hence it can be seen that all aspects that would make this time period a key turning point are in jeopardy, as the change in this period is no widespread as so many Americans are left in poverty, the change in this period is not long lasting – as instead it ends all change up to this point and there are hardly any radical and leading changes generated. John Kennedy attempted to reform this dark time with “The New Frontier” however the ambitious programme of social reform was only party successful. His lack of support in Congress meant that his reform agenda was frequently opposed by a coalition of republicans and Southern Democrats. Moreover, during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency the focus was overwhelmingly on the war on poverty, and thus advancing the rights of organised labour seems to have assumed less importance. Nonetheless it cannot be overlooked that during this time, one leading change was that the right to join a trade union was accepted and established in law. Consequently, unions were able to work collaboratively with employers and where necessary, to improve earnings. This was a foundation that helped pave the way for trade unions away from the threat of an illegal practice, however overall it can be seen that during the 1960s there were changes underway that threatened to weaken the power and influence of the labour unions, hence not making this time period the key turning point as compared to the boom between the wars.

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In conclusion it can be seen that the period of 1950 – 1969 was not a key turning point; instead it may be assumed to be of some relevant significance, however, the key turning point in the past century for trade unions may be considered to be the time between the wars which saw improvements and growth to the trade unions like never before, in contrast to the period of 1950 – 1969 which lacked membership due to the affluence of America which meant workers did not see the necessity for trade unions; especially with the gold gilded yellow dog contracts and welfare capitalism with such cooperations as Ford. The era of 1950 – 1969 may instead be considering as a time tying off all the loose ends of trade unions, ending the debate on legality, and with the acceptance of individual races and ethnic minorities, hence making long term effects of earlier time periods evident. Therefore it can be seen that in fact they key turning point or labour and trade unions rights may be considered to be the time period of 1915-1945.

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Development of Labor and Trade Union Rights in The USA During 1950-1969. (2019, January 28). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from
“Development of Labor and Trade Union Rights in The USA During 1950-1969.” GradesFixer, 28 Jan. 2019,
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