Labor unions are tools which the employees use to gain greater bargaining power while advocating for their rights and interests. Labor unions were established to eliminate the unfair labor practices which were prevalent in the early times. Labor unions date to the early ages of slave trade in the united states and as early as the time of American revolution in 1783. Labor unions accomplished their goals in America after America defeated England during the revolutionary period. Achievements were marked by the overthrowing of the foreign rule which was characterized by dictatorship and the establishment of a democratic nation. This was followed by the amendment of the constitution which was geared by farmers thus giving labor movements more power and influence. Despite these two achievements attained by labor politics, there were yet many more unresolved issues especially among the working people. This unresolved issues led to the establishment of workingmen’s parties between 1829 and 1830. Strikes were declared in the 1930s by these union groups. These unions evolved and formed the backbone of the 1900s labor movement. The main agenda of the labor unions and movements was to demand the workers rights as well as to incorporate these rights in political practices (Yates D, pp 83).
Apart from demanding for better working conditions, labor unions also demanded for more schools to be built with less jail among other things. These demands were the primary goals of these trade unions. These demands were integrated in their labor issues and continue to be advocated for even today by labor unions (Yates, pp 30).
Roles played by labor in politics and their effects.
After America gained independence, voting was only done by people who were well endowed with property. The main agenda of the labor politics was to correct this as they termed it as a social problem which required to be addressed by law. Another agenda was to eliminate discrimination which was being experienced by women and the blacks while attaining citizenship in America and also their rights to vote. However, during the reign of President Franklin, this was not attained and most of the union activities were futile. However, this did not deter their determination to ensure equity in voting and administration of public services for all people (Yates D, pp 90).
Another agenda that the labor politics were advocating for was for a fair wage. In early America, women were not recognized and whatever they earned was accounted to their husbands. Also the pay for all people was generally low with some merchants not paying especially the slaves. The labor unions were fighting for equity of labor and wage given. The work which was being done was hard and the pay was low and this needed to be corrected. The hours which were being worked were also long. The labor movements were advocating for reduction in the number of hours and they wanted the workers to be given enough time to rest. They were calling for an eight hours day work (Yates, pp 39).
During this era, workers were treated as mere objects by their employers which led to an outcry demanding justice. The labor union’s agenda was to ensure that all workers were treated with due respect by their employers. The working conditions were also in pathetic state. The union demanded for safer working environment to ensure the workers safety and health. Also during this era, the employers had the exclusive rights to hire, fire and decide the wage rates. The labor movements were calling for a correction of this. Their agenda was to ensure that the workers were allowed to form associations which could help negotiate for fairer wages from their employees and also for fair treatment. Discrimination in administration of workers rights also led to emergence of labor politics. During this period, people were being discriminated in terms of their religion, race, gender and even age. The demand to illegalize slavery also led to the establishment of labor movement (Yates D, pp 98).
These agendas were not accomplished with ease. They were met with opposition especially from those who were in the federal government. The pressure was however mounting calling for rights to vote for all citizens. Labor was at the forefront which saw the amendment of the constitution in 1965 and the introduction of a voting rights act. This was the first major achievement of labor politics. The fight is not yet over as labor continues to press for fair election for the African Americans. Another achievement was attained in 1930s when fair labors standards act was passed after a labor upsurge. This act set the minimum wage rate for all workers and introduced overtime payments to workers. This act also illegalized child labor. Another act that represented an accomplishment of the labor politics was the passage of Davis Bacon Act of 1931 which authorized employers to pay construction workers working on contract depending on the market wage prevailing at the industries (Yates, pp 47). The fight for minimum wages did not however end there. The labor movement forced the congress to raise it in the year 2007.
Another major breakthrough for labor politics was experienced in 1930s after the passing of Wagner act which gave the unions a legal existence. The railway labor act of 1926 gave workers rights. The introduction of Wagner act did not however solve the problem of workers exploitation by the employers. Wagner act only imposed low penalties for employees for firing workers who formed unions. The labor movement is still advocating for employees to be given rights to join and form unions without fear of being fired. The passing of the occupational health and safety act in 1970 was another major boost to the labors activities. This act gave rights to workers for healthy and safe working conditions. Even with the introduction of this act more injuries have been reported at work places. The act is under funded thus its implementation has been difficult. The workers safety and good working conditions are thus not guaranteed (Yates, pp 47).
Another achievement of the labor in politics was the passage of social security act in 1935. This act also included insurance programs for the unemployed persons. This program however remains under funded and the labor movements are still lobbying for their funding by the government. In 1963, labor was successful in that it led to implementation of equal treatment in the equal pay act. An equal employment act was also introduced. This has led to controversy in that most of workers are harassed if they work in a non unionized workplace. Labor movement is also fighting for establishment of an act to protect the gays and the lesbian workers (Yates, pp 52).
However, despite the achievement and impact that labor has had on the United States politics, labor union members have been found to be divided. Most of the members support the Republican Party which is more inclined to social matters while others favor the Democratic Party leaders. The voting by union members is also divided among those who earn more and the working poor class. Those who earn less money seem to be disinterested with politics than those who earn more money. The poor feel that they do not draw direct benefits from the unions unlike their rich counterparts. Those in the support of the republican leaders favor unionization of workers while those inclined to democratic leaders are less interested in labor politics as research have indicated (Palast, para 3, 4).
It has also been argued that it is hard to separate the government and labor politics. Some employers collude with high government officials to exploit workers and so involving in labor politics may not be beneficial to the workers after all. The AFL-CIO is criticized on the ground that it is political and has no interest in workers welfare. The AFL-CIO officials are elected without the participation of union members. These elected members are supposed to lobby with the government for the workers interest. However, they end up lobbying with the democrats who are anti union for their own benefits. The labor politics are thus not beneficial to the union members or the workers (Yates D, pp 100).
Labor politics has been at the fore front to ensuring that major labor acts have been enacted in the past. It has achieved much in terms of eliminating unfair practices and ensuring that workers get minimum pay and work for lesser hours. Some groups have even been calling for introduction of a labor party in United States to fight for the workers welfare. Labor politics has however received different reaction from different groups. While those opposed to these politics do not advocate for complete alienation of the unions from them, they have devised ways in which labor movements can attain their political agendas without involving in direct politics. Some workers feel that the labor unions should act independently as watchdogs to fight for the workers interests instead of being involved in party politics. To this effect, they argue that the labor movements should not endorse any political aspirant as they have been doing in the past (Fitrakis & Wasserman, para 3).
Instead of engaging in active politics, labor unions should focus on enlightening their members on matters affecting them and how labor laws are voted for by the politicians. This would help the workers make rational decisions on election instead of giving them instructions on how to vote. Lobbying of politicians should not be done by the labor unions. Also the core value of labor unions is to look into the workers welfare. As such, labor unions should be focused on the well being of their workers both economically and social matters. The unions should also endeavor to give their members accurate information on potential political leaders. This would help create confidence between the union members and the labor unions The U.S. (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission para 7).
Labor unions though cannot be completely separated from politics should set guidelines on how they involve in them. They should not do so at the expense of the workers. Any political involvement which may turn out to be detrimental to workers welfare should be avoided while those deemed to be beneficial to them should be adopted. However, direct participation and lobbying of political leaders may blur the main objectives of the labor unions. Where possible, the labor unions should strive at educating their members on political matters prevailing in the country which affect their welfare and leave the decision of electing political leaders with the union members.
Brooks Clem & Manza Jeff: Class Politics and Political Change in the United States, 1952-1992. Journal article of Social Forces, Vol. 76, 1997
Fitrakis Bob & Wasserman Harvey: Hearings on Ohio Voting Put 2004 Election in Doubt. 2004. Retrieved on 10th December 2008 from,
Palast Gregory: Vanishing Votes. 2004. Retrieved on 10th December 2008 from,
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Laws. . Retrieved on 10th December 2008 from,
Yates Michael: Power on the Job: The Legal Rights of Working People
Published by South End Press, ISBN 0896084973, 1994
Yates Michael D.: Why Unions Matter
Published by Monthly Review Press, ISBN 0853459304, 1998