A Brief History of American Unions
Updated 1/15/23    Please Share

I. Craft and Inclusive Union

      A. Exclusive Craft Unions vs. 

         1. Organized in 1886 by Samuel Gompers
             as the American Federation of Labor -
a. Each trade was autonomous.
             b. Union was not political. 

B. Inclusive Industrial Union

    1. The Congress of Industrial
        Organizations (CIO)
was organized in 1936 by
        John L. Lewis who broke with the AFL because 
        mass production workers need a different type
        See Decline and resurgence of the US auto industry

         2. Skilled workers were organized.      2. Unskilled workers were organized.
         3. High skill requirements naturally limited
             supply and unions tried to reinforce limited
     3. Limited skills make limiting supply
         4. Tried to shift supply of workers to the left
             with licensing, apprenticeships, child labor
             laws, etc. to increase wages.
     4. Controlled supply of workers and
         emphasized collective bargaining
         to increase wages.

Have American CEO's Created 
an Exclusive Craft Union?



 In 1955 the AFL and CIO merged
 into the AFL-CIO.


       C. How Unions Raise Wages

II. Labor Power

"The downward pressure on compensation is connected to the rapid erosion of labor-union power. In 2012, unions lost 400,000 members, or 2.7 percent, and their representation in the labor force fell to 9.3 percent, from 9.6 percent in 2011 and more than 25 percent in the 1960s. I
n the private sector, unionization fell to 6.3 percent, with the sharpest declines in manufacturing and construction. <

More states are passing right-to-work laws, which allow employees in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying union dues. In the past year, private-employees in right-to- work states earned 9.8 percent less than workers in other states. Manufacturing jobs pay 7.4 percent less in right-to-work states. On the other hand, the number of jobs in such states grew 4.9 percent in the past three years, compared with 3.9 percent in non-right-to-work states.

Municipal governments are under pressure to cut costs. Local tax collection is subdued because of earlier declines in property assessments and taxes, which account for 79 percent of revenue. State tax collections have revived, thanks to increases in corporate and personal income taxes and in sales taxes. Yet many states still face budget problems because of the fading effects of the federal stimulus enacted in 2009, which was used for infrastructure projects and to preserve teachers’ jobs. In addition, the Medicaid costs borne by the states are ballooning, and temporary taxes instituted during the recession are expiring. Vastly underfunded defined-benefit pensions are also fueling state and local government retrenchment." from seekingalpha 4/23/13

Books also help the education process.

The Jungle exposure of health violations and unsanitary practices in the early 20th century American meatpacking industry.

The Octopus exposed government corruption

The Bitter Cry of Children exposed the terrible child working conditions. Some tried night school but after working ten hours learning to read was difficult.

See Progressive Era 15 min. video


Unions: Good or Bad? from the Motley Fool


Some Were Against Labor

New York police violently attacking
unemployed workers in 
Tompkins Square Park
, 1874


Some For Labor


Eda Tarbell and other investigative journalists were called Muckrakers. She exposed Standard Oil Trust. Working for McClure Magazine and other monthly magazines they help educated the public from 1890 to 1929 in what is known as the Progressive Era.

U.S. Strikes, Lockouts Remained Near Record Lows in 2010  2/8/11
Is the Supreme Court Killing Unions 7/11/14
Lets Remember What Unions Have Done for America has extensive information and links
Lets Remember What Unions Have Done for America

The middle class was not a gift of the Blue Fairy. Instead of “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” there was 150 years of worker working together, mobilizing against their employers — who organized cartels to fight their employees and raise prices for their customers.

It was a long bloody struggle, The victory of unions was

foundational for the growth of America’s middle class. The fall of

the unions was a major factor undermining the middle class.

It had many causes: corruption, greed, stupidity, infiltration by organized crime — and the long successful counter-revolution by corporations, now eroding away the middle class.

For a blow-by-blow of unions rise see this series by Erik Loomis

(Asst Prof of History, U RI).

The toll these people paid is as much a cost of building America

 as that paid by the members of our armed forces



May, 2011 The Rise of the McWorker 
The evidence points to the latter. According to a recent analysis by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the biggest growth in private-sector job creation in the past year occurred in positions in the low-wage retail, administrative, and food service sectors of the economy. While 23% of the jobs lost in the Great Recession that followed the economic meltdown of 2008 were “low-wage” (those paying $9-$13 an hour), 49% of new jobs added in the sluggish “recovery” are in those same low-wage industries. On the other end of the spectrum, 40% of the jobs lost paid high wages ($19-$31 an hour), while a mere 14% of new jobs pay similarly high wages. 
For more read 
Welcome to the McJobs Recovery
Andy Kroll, TomDispatch

  Progress Era
The Depression Era


  Post WW 2

Posts about the conflict between labor and capital:

  1. The new American economy: concentrating business power to suit an unequal society, 27 April 2012
  2. Public employee unions – an anvil chained to the Democratic Party, 15 February 2013
  3. Why the 1% is winning, and we are not, 26 May 2013 — They are smart, organized, and have planned how to win.