Discussion Question:

Do you agree with the opinion of the AFL-CIO researcher cited in this chapter that unions are “somewhat a victim of [their] own success”? Why or why not?

  • For full credit, include one journal article to support your post from Welder Library EResources.  
  • You will not be able to view your classmate’s posts until you post.
  • Your initial post is due by Thursday. This allows you and your classmates time to read and reply.
  • Your initial post should be 2-3 paragraphs in length. 
  • Make sure to demonstrate critical thinking and analysis by using research and personal work experiences. 
  • For full credit, you are required to respond to a minimum of two classmates. Please begin your reply by addressing the student by name. Your responses must be completed by Sunday at midnight.   
  • Please refer to the rubric for the grading requirements. You can view the rubric by clicking on the wheel in the upper right corner and selecting “show rubric.”  

Chapter Summaries:

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Chapter 1 – Organized Labor and the Management Community: An Overview 

Despite continuing management enmity, unionism has shown absolutely no tendency to retreat. Over five times as many workers are union members today as was the case in 1932, and the labor union seems to be very much here to stay. Indeed, union strength is highly concentrated in areas that are strategic to our economy and thus labor has an influence that is actually understated by simple membership totals.

The fast-growing white collar sector, however, has been relatively unreceptive to unions. Several reasons involving union imagery, weak union leadership, and certain unique general white collar characteristics that might work against unionization in any event are probably responsible for this. On the other hand, there are also grounds for union optimism here. Highly visible union successes in increasing blue collar wages may attract white collar workers. So, too, might the advent to unionism of governmental employees, in the process weakening the traditional association of organized labor with manual work. Improved prospects for more able labor leadership and the increasingly less enviable atmosphere in which many white collar employees work may also help unions organize in the white collar sector. From the union viewpoint, cases for both pessimism and optimism can be erected.

The many workers who have joined unions would appear to have done so because of a broad network of needs on their part. Of these, the needs for safety, social affiliation, and to a lesser extent, self-esteem, appear to be of primary importance to employees in contemporary America. Similarly, the management resistance to union inroads is also derived from a wide array of specific causes, even though the desire to retain decision-making authority in managerial hands lies at the heart of most of them.

In the governmental employee sector, the considerable recent union penetration appears to have stemmed primarily from favorable legal developments, from the public servant’s increasing unhappiness as remuneration packages have fallen farther and farther behind that of private employment, and from the general collective action spirit of the times. Controversy continues as to whether public servants should be allowed the strike weapon, with increasing support for granting it to many of them (policemen and firemen not included) under certain conditions. More ominous tidings for public sector unionism, however, now seem to lie in the general taxpayers’ revolt and its corollary messages that “labor peace” at any price is no longer acceptable to the electorate, and that public officials can perhaps fare well with the voters by standing up to unions.

In overview, chapter 1 also touches upon the general progress made in the union-management relationship in the relatively recent past, and the vulnerability of this relationship (despite the progress) to governmental control because of the increasingly high level of public expectation concerning collective bargaining. 

Chapter 2 – The Historical Framework 

The following constitutes a chronology of key dates in the history of the American labor movement:

  • Late eighteenth century: The first trade unions, individually encompassing printers, carpenters, tailors and artisans of similar skill levels, are established.
  • 1819: A major nationwide depression occurs and all but wipes out these early unions.
  • 1822–1850: With the return of a healthy economy, skilled workers in the trades previously organized once again turn to union activity. But economic hard times from 1837 to 1850 cause unionism to vanish almost completely once again.
  • 1850–1865: With the return of prosperity, unions are again a force to be reckoned with and now the nationwide scope of many labor markets gives them more incentive to try to standardize conditions. The first nationals are now formed and by the end of the Civil War in 1865 there is a post-1836 high of over 200,000 unionists — still virtually all skilled workers.
  • 1873–1878: A new period of deep depression takes place and once again it (combined with aggressive employer onslaughts on labor) severely crimps unionism, but this time 50,000 unionists survive the bad years.
  • 1885: The Knights of Labor, American labor’s most notable attempt to form a single, large “general” union wins a major strike against the Wabash Railroad and its growth then becomes spectacular, to 700,000 members one year later (from 70,000 in 1884). But a lack of leadership and other factors send it into a permanent decline by the late 1880s.
  • 1886: The American Federation of Labor (actually established in 1881) is officially founded and the pragmatic master plan of its first leaders (most notably, its first president Samuel Gompers) proves to be so successful that its basic tenets, stressing the needs of skilled workers, remain unchallenged by the labor mainstream for the next five decades.
  • 1929: The most severe business downturn in the nation’s history begins. By 1933, a staggering 24.9 percent of the civilian labor force is unemployed and a newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a “New Deal” Congress have squarely supported collective bargaining, marking a drastic change in public policy.
  • 1935: The Wagner Act, restricting management’s labor relations conduct and establishing the National Labor Relations Board to determine appropriate bargaining units and conduct representation elections, is enacted. 
  • John L. Lewis, unable to get his AFL colleagues to admit the new fast-growing mass production sector industrial unionists, forms the Committee for Industrial Organization (known after 1938 as the Congress of Industrial Organizations). This AFL offshoot, its national member unions now expelled by the AFL, claims almost 4 million recruits by 1937.
  • Late 1941: Total union membership now stands at 10.2 million compared with less than 3 million only nine years earlier. Much of the growth is due to newly aggressive AFL efforts, inspired by the CIO’s challenge, to emulate the CIO and recruit industrial workers.
  • 1947: The Taft-Hartley Act, far less friendly to labor than the Wagner Act and due in large part to labor’s fall from public favor (because of its occasional strikes during World War II in the 1941-1945 period and especially to its huge wave of postwar strikes) is enacted.       
  • 1955: AFL and CIO leaders, culminating two years of intensive negotiations, merge into the AFL-CIO. The new constitution respects the “integrity of each affiliate,” including both its “organizing jurisdiction” and its “established collective bargaining relationships.”
  • 1957: The AFL-CIO expels the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for “corrupt influences.”
  • 1959: The Landrum-Griffin Act further restricts labor’s freedom of action, especially in the conduct of internal affairs.
  • 2005:  The original 15 million membership total of the AFL-CIO in 1955 is down to 13 million and unions now represent just 12.5 percent of the labor force, down from 35 percent in the later 1950s.

New AFL-CIO leadership under John J. Sweeney, who is elected federation president in late 1995 in the face of general union unhappiness with labor’s stagnation since the merger, starts to achieve some favorable results. New union members are recruited and there is for a time a marked increase in labor’s political influence as well. 

But the returns for the first years of the 21st century in both of these areas are not as encouraging as in the early Sweeney years, and in 2005 three of the federation’s four largest unions sever their ties to the federation. With four other unions they announce the formation of a new coalition—“Change to Win”—designed to reverse labor’s now-resumed membership slide by pouring massive amounts of resources into heightened organizing attempts.

By late 2008, it is still too early to tell whether or not the new organization will have any lasting consequences in the membership recruitment sphere – or, indeed, in the political arena.  The returns are both tentative and mixed.

The chapter ends with “Some Concluding Thoughts,” a segment that above all argues that the current reports of unionism’s impending doom may be greatly exaggerated: Organized labor has confronted conditions at least as bleak as those surrounding it today many times in its long history and has always proved equal to the challenge. It would appear that too many workers, from the early nineteenth century to the present, there really has been no acceptable substitute for collective bargaining as a means of maintaining and improving employment conditions.

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