Birth of Unions PowerPoint

The Birth of Unions
And the Progressive Era
The American Federation of Labor
Different groups of skilled
workers (craftsman) had formed
small labor unions during the
1800’s, but the first large
successful union was the
American Federation of Labor
Skilled Craftsmen Only
The AFL was founded in Ohio, 1886. It was an
organization bringing together smaller craft unions.
Focusing on crafts, meant that only skilled workers
and their unions could join.
In addition to not allowing unskilled
workers, women and African Americans
were also banned from the AFL.
Sam Gompers
Samuel Gompers, a
reader, from the Cigar
Makers International
Union was elected
president of the AFL
each year from 1886
to 1924 with the
exception of 1894.
Gompers was an English-born immigrant. His
family was Jewish and was impoverished.
Gompers had to leave school at age 10, but
continued his education in night school.
Business Unionism and
Political Action
Gompers did not want the
the AFL to be associated
with socialism and
emphasized the role of
skilled workers in maximizing
the profits of industry.
Cigar Makers Affiliate Certificate
He also believed that the union
should not be tied to any one
political party but he
encouraged union members to
“reward their friends and
punish their enemies” at the
polls (In time, however, the AFL
would associate closely with
the Democratic party).
Law and Union Activity
During Gomper’s time in the AFL, the courts and
the laws generally favored business interests
over those of the workers. In many areas
picketing was outlawed.
Iron-clad contracts were legal where an employer
made an employee sign an oath that he would
never join a union. Anti-trust laws were even used
to attack unions (The Sherman Act).
The Industrial Workers of the World
The IWW, or “The
Wobblies” was formed in
1905 in Chicago at a
convention of socialists
and radicals. The Wobblies
took a very different view
of unionization.
A Socialist View
The IWW took a socialist view of labor. They felt
that the AFL was too pro-business. They sought
a business model where the workers would
manage themselves. Capitalism was considered
the source of the worker’s problems.
Unskilled Labor
They looked to organize by industry
instead of craft. This meant that
unskilled workers would be in a labor
union along with their skilled co-workers.
The AFL would eventually
bring in unskilled labor,
but not until the 1940’s.
The IWW grew to its largest shortly after WWI. However,
the fear of socialism and radical anarchists that developed
during the post-war years made the IWW less popular.
Membership declined drastically in the 1920’s.
The Closed Shop
A closed shop is a term used for any firm that only
hires union members. This meant that craft union
members would be offered work exclusively. This
made sense because most craftsmen were in a union,
and in order to learn the craft, one usually had to work
as an apprentice under a master craftsmen.
Closed Shops Help Unions Grow
As unions grew, organized labor won closedshop status within many industries. This
became such a concern that closed shops were
outlawed in 1947 by the Taft-Hartley Act.
While closed shops are now illegal, union shops are not.
A union shop requires employees to join a union within
a certain amount of time AFTER being hired. However,
some states have enacted “Right to Work” laws that
make even union shops illegal. In these states all
employees have the right to NOT join a union.
The Populist Party
The People’s Party (The
Populists) was not a union. It
was a political party.
Like some of the poor skilled workers in the nation’s cities,
poor farmers also wanted to create something that would
give them some power over their fate. From 1891 to
1908, the People’s Party existed for that purpose.
Poor white cotton farmers from the South and wheat
farmers from the plain’s states were tired of being
taken advantage of by other business interests.
These poor farmers were unable to get loans at
reasonable rates from banks. The banks favored
larger farms and the larger farms did not want any
new competition.
Likewise, these poor farmers felt put out by the
railroads. Railroads would give better rates to larger
farms that shipped in larger quantities. This made it
even more difficult for the small farms to compete.
James B. Weaver (1892)
The Populists wanted to see
laws enacted that would
regulate banks, railroads, and
other industries. They felt that
this would help level the
playing field.
The Populist’s often formed political
agreement with the unions because both
sides felt a need to stand up for themselves
against the elites. However, as industry
grew, the power of the small farmers
became less and less significant.
The populists would often join
forces with one of the two
major parties when it was to
their interest, but this also led
to fractures within the party.

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