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The History Of The American Labor Union

2711 words - 11 pages

John Ellis Williams
Mr. Richard Baker
Principles of Microeconomics
Monday & Wednesday 1:00 PM
31 March 2014

John Ellis Williams
Mr. Richard Baker
Principles of Microeconomics MW 1:00
31 March 2014
The History of the American Labor Union
Beginning in the late 1700’s and growing rapidly even today, labor unions form the backbone for the American workforce and continue to fight for the common interests of workers around the country. As we look at the history of these unions, we see powerful individuals such as Terrence Powderly, Samuel Gompers, and Eugene Debs rise up as leaders in a newfound movement that protected the rights of the common worker and ensured better wages, more reasonable hours, and safer working conditions for those people (History). The rise of these labor unions also warranted new legislation that would protect against child labor in factories and give health benefits to workers who were either retired or injured, but everyone was not on board with the idea of foundations working to protect the interests of the common worker. Conflict with their industries lead to many strikes across the country in the coal, steel, and railroad industries, and several of these would ultimately end up leading to bloodshed. However, the existence of labor unions in the United States and their influence on their respective industries still resonates today, and many of our modern ideals that we have today carry over from what these labor unions fought for during through the Industrial Revolution.
To begin, we need to look towards the first recorded instance of a labor union in the United States, a union known as the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers ( In 1794, a group of cordwainers, shoemakers, in Philadelphia banded together to form the United States’ first form of organized labor union through a series of strikes. Their goal was simply to obtain moderate wage increases for members of its society, but factory owners in the area were not willing to allow the shoemakers to determine their own wages as they argued workers should not have the right to judge their own economic value. In 1806, the factory owners gained a criminal indictment of the union’s leaders and went to court in a case known as “Commonwealth vs Pullis” in which the court declared that it was the right of business owner to determine fair wages for their workers with careful consideration of the market. As a result of the court case, the FSJC disbanded due to bankruptcy, but other labor unions continued to grow in force throughout the early 1800’s despite this loss.
Although many smaller labor unions proliferated the period of 1806-1868, we see the first truly large labor union with the rise of the Knights of Labor (KOL) in 1869 (Britannica). Although it began as a very small, secretive union of laborers in 1869, membership exploded in number after the Railway...

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