Labor & american politics

In its historical sense, the evolution of American labor force has change greatly from an agrarian society into a modern industrial state - Labor & american politics introduction. It started when the British colonizer came to America and presented itself as a land of opportunities. However, the European feudal system carried on its ill-effects as the American labor started in the form of contractual slavery. These serfs were mostly held in serfdom in lieu of their free passage to America. With very little chance of regaining freedom, these workers had practically no voice to their plights and grievances. In fact, it has been said that the Southern colonies were dens for slavery with laborers being brought from Great Britain, Europe and Africa. Independent craftsmen however were present in the northern parts — thus the American geography had a large role to play in the economic pattern of the country. From the fifteenth century to the middle of the eighteenth, labor unions and guilds slowly started coming up. In 1676, there was Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia where peasants went up in arms against the corruption of the government.[1]

The history of American labor had evolved for many years. But the milestone of its evolution was manifested by the farmers’ uprising at the Green Mountains, demanding equality of political power. Another significant event in the history of American labor is the War of American Independence. In this period, it has been said that many American workers fought immensely for their national freedom. In addition, there are significant contributions in evolution of American Labor during this period. For example is the famous pamphlet of Thomas Paines’ titled “Common Sense”. The pamphlet was written primarily to address the masses the indispensability of the labor class. Another example is Adam Smith’s economic theory which addresses the wartime monopolies and price control. However, the worker’s status did not make any improvement despite the revolution and gain freedom. The issue of slavery still exists in this period.

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From the 1830’s, reforms began to appear on the horizon for the American workers. It was during this period that the slave abolition movement was pioneered by William Lloyd Garrison. As reform organizations raise their voices, the workers started becoming more and more conscious of the labor rights. There was an increasing demand for free distribution of lands. Meanwhile, the Ten Hour Movement was made into a law. Up to a large extent, the Civil War was fuelled by the issue of slavery as interests clashed between North and South on the question of slavery abolition. The industrial capitalist North came into conflict with the agrarian South and the Civil War was the only solution. Ultimately, the system was abolished by the 13th Amendment in 1865. The needs of the war started deciding the labor needs, which now had a new voice under the new circumstances—new unions began to crop up. The Eight Hour movement, economic depression and trade unions began to have more and more importance.[2]

In the year 1882, the first Labor Day was celebrated in New York. During this period, it has been said that industrialization was considered to grow rapidly. Workers are given importance because they are greatly needed by their employer and in effect, they became integrated for better working condition, health issues and wages. This industrialization continued during the World War I where people are recruited and compensated to go to war.

In 1934, USA joined the International Labor Organization; more and number of laws came to be passed to protect the rights of the American workers. The trend of recruiting more wartime laborers continued with the World War II. This time around the colored people from the South formed the bulk of the recruited people as the white majority went to the war.[3]

At present, Labor Day in America has become the heart and soul of the national economy and the fortification of the democratic society. It was labor that drives public education and served as the igniting power of the American progress. Furthermore, the merging of Union has enabled it to accomplish as well as to bring benefits to the public as a whole.

A trade union or labor union is “a continuous association of wage-earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment.[4] A union is a contemporary concept created through industrialization. The labor force is majority created by an organization to protect its rights collectively from the authoritative minority, which is the capitalist whose will is supported by the State. Unionism is being frowned upon by the capitalist and management, because it lessens their unconditional workplace authority. It is a powerful, effective social force, which empowers the laborers in their workplace. In developing unionism collective bargain, laborers were given the opportunity to discuss and negotiate their interest in the company.

Two approaches have been developed with the emergence of unionism, which include Business Unionism and the Revolutionary Unionism. Each approach is distinct and separate to one another. Each has been developed for the past event in the American Labor. Business Unionism has become the tool for negotiation between the labor and capital, but for the past years it has transformed into a Revolutionary Unionism.

On the other hand, Business Unionism is the belief that workers and bosses have common interests, focusing on rhetoric like “getting the job done” and “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.” Business unions function to keep workers working, and profits flowing smoothly into the pockets of business owners. Business unions have long been businesses themselves, with entrenched and powerful bureaucracies, and their conduct over the years has created the image of labor unions as corrupt, inefficient, self-serving agencies. Peaking in membership in the 50s, business unions have suffered a long, slow decline since then.[5]

Under this kind of concept, the workers are bound in their labor contract. From the contract, the workers and management try to settle with the best possible deal both the wages and job security of the employee. The Collective Bargaining gives a big role in the Business Unions, where the members of the union negotiate with the management in matters concerning the members of the union. This concept empowers the members of the union to protect their right as a laborer. However, business unions give raise an issue of hierarchy with in the members, which lead in favoring the older member than the new members as manifested by giving a higher salary. There is also a possibility that the lower ranking laborers are made to sacrifice in order to retain the benefits and protections that the senior rank employees receive. Despite the hierarchy and the discrepancy of the benefits and protections of the employees, the decision-making are reserve in the labor leaders in a business union. The rank-and-file are not given opportunity to participate rather they are bound to the decision of their respective leaders. In a negotiation process, the union leaders are only given opportunity to negotiate with the management. In the end, any decision made in the collective bargaining shall bind the entire union.

The business union has always revolved around the trade union principle of organizing. That is, they hold that each trade has its own distinct interests, which are independent of those of other workers. As such, they organize around a particular profession or trade, thereby dividing workers into manifold smaller unions, focusing exclusively on their particular interests.[6]

Furthermore, the business union has tools to be used in case the management suppresses the right of the labor which is strike. The law allows only the union leaders to declare a strike and if ever the rank-and-file declared a strike it would not be favorable within the union because they are not given the power to declare such thing.

 

Meanwhile, revolutionary unionism – basing itself on the class struggle – aims to unite all workers in combative economic organizations that fight to free themselves from the double yoke of capital and the state. Its goal is the reorganization of social life on the basis of libertarian communism via the revolutionary action of the working class. Since only the economic organizations of the proletariat are capable of achieving this objective, revolutionary unionism addresses itself to workers in their capacity as producers, creators of social wealth, to take root and develop amongst them, in opposition to the modern workers’ parties, which it declares are incapable of the economic reorganization of society.[7]

In revolutionary unions, there is no hierarchy between and among workers. There are no upper rank and lower rank in terms of decision making with in the union. The entire laborers, especially the rank-and-file, are empowered to file their grievances and making their desires felt and known. The revolutionary union is based on direct action rather than an aggressive move like strike which their possibility that the management may opt to have a lockout. The direct action tactics is the effective tool to push their different agenda within the company. The various direct action is readily a form of expression especially through a general strike, which introduce to the social revolution from the approach of revolutionary unionism. Basically this approach gives significantly a free union with more or less, active and informed members.

It has been said that the revolutionary unions practice industrial unionism. That is, the idea that instead of workers dividing themselves into manifold trades and defending their interests to the exclusion of others, there are instead only two classifications in working society — workers and capitalists — that is, those who work for a living, and those who live on others’ work and those who take orders and those who give them.[8]  Revolutionary unions bear the day-today revolutionary struggle for the economic, social and intellectual advancement of the working class within the society. It does not accept the idea of organizational social system which a certain governmental decrees dictates the producing class through a common action of all manual and intellectual workers. It seeks a broader type of unionism, instead of various small unions. This is to solidify the all the members of the working class. The logic behind this is that capitalist tend to close ranks and defend their common class interest.

Basically, revolutionary unionism hinders the social and economic domination. It tends to create a system where there are no authorities or political parties governing as well as a system that will be operated by them. However, the objective of the revolutionary unionism is not to dissolve the government or the political parties but to abolish all the state functions in the everyday lives of a society.

The future of labor will be determined whether what kind of approach will be used, whether it is a business union or revolutionary union. In business union approach ushers in the growth of radical unionism. The suppression of the capitalist by reducing worker’s pay, increasing working hours and reducing workers benefits, created a radical situation. Meanwhile, the revolutionary union seeks to increase the wages and benefits of the workers. Its main goal is to create more spare time for the workers. Hence, both approaches promote empowerment to the workers, to stand in their own in fighting for their rights as a laborer.

At this time, management is conducting seminars and teambuilding to develop their employees’ empowerment. This approach enables the management to make believe that workers and the management are all in the same team. That the management is opening the possibilities or avenues where workers can make demand or negotiate with the management with their benefits without the need of the union. The main goal of their approach is to destroy unionism in the company. Although there exists efforts to empower laborers through seminars, the decision – whether or not to create or establish a union — still remains within the workers themselves. If the suppression of the workers continues despite the empowerment, the workers will still revolt and fight for their rights.

The challenge for the revolutionary unionist is to adapt to these new conditions and bring real improvements in the lives of workers. One thing that killed revolutionary unionism in the past was the inability of such unions to consistently bring real benefits to working people — something business unions could do in the form of contracts and pay increases. The new revolutionary union will have to keep a focus on meat and potatoes issues at the same time it focuses on actual radical unionizing efforts. Business unionism is dead; it just doesn’t know it yet. It will keep losing as we move through this transitional period of the globalization of Capital. Does this mean there’s no hope for working folks? Not at all — it only means there is no middle ground between labor and capital — a position mistakenly occupied by the business unionists. It will mean that the revolutionary union, so long considered a fossil of a bygone age, will become the only possible avenue left for working people who want a real say in what does in the work place.[9]

For many years the movement of the union in the United States has handle the high spots of movement and recognize the main approach of century of achievement. The laborers of America have joined collectively in effort to attain the gains they have fought during this century. The progress did not come effortless, many blood has been spilled to develop a ideal system. 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.[10]

 

 

 

WORKS CITED:

 

(1922). The Pricniples of Revolutionary Unionism. Retrieved 21 April 2007, from Berlin Congress of Revolutionary Unionist Website:http://www.uncanny.net/~wsa/iwaprin.htm.

(1981). A Short History of American Labor. Retrieved 20 April 2007, from AFL-CIO American Federationist Website:http://www.uwstout.edu/cas/socsci/tyson/laborhis.htm.

(1996). American Labor History: Brief History of American Labor. Retrieved 20 April 2007, from Website:http://www.123greetings.com/events/labor_day/info/american_labor_history.html.

(2007). Business Unionism vs. Revoltuionary Unionism. Retrieved 20 April 2007, from Union: Yes Website:http://www.heardny.org/bus%20vs.%20rev%20unam.htm.

(2007). Trade Union. Retrieved 21 April 2007, from Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia Website:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_union.

Conte and Carr, . (2007). American Labor History. Retrieved 20 April 2007, from US Department of State Website:http://economics.about.com/od/laborinamerica/a/labor_history.htm?terms=unskilled+workers.

[1]  “American Labor History”. www.123greetings.com:1
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “Trade Union”. Wikipedia: The Free Encylopedia:1
[5] “Union”. http://www.heardny.org:1
[6]“Unions”. http://www.heardny.org:1
[7] “The Principles of Revolutionary Unionism”. http://www.uncanny.net:1
[8] “Unions”. http://www.heardny.org:1
[9] “Unions”. http://www.heardny.org:1
[10] “A Short History of American Labor”. http://www.uwstout.edu:1

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