The Role of Labor Unions in the Industrializing America

  • Uncategorized

TheRole of Labor Unions in the Industrializing America

Priorto industrialization, most of the people in America practicedagriculture and occupied rural settings. Agricultural based workersoutnumbered industrial worker as of 1880. However, by 1920, thenumbers were comparable. Over time, the number of employees workingin the manufacturing overtook the agricultural labor. During late19th century to 1950, the United States society experienced majortransformations from predominant rural agrarian to an industrializedeconomy, with a large population living in metropolitan towns andcities (Dubofsky and Dulles 30). Industrialization ushered indevelopments such as the labor unions that championed the rights ofthe workers.

Failureand Success of Trade Unions

PhiladelphiaFederal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers was one of the first tradeunions that fought for American workers interests. It played acrucial role in advocating for the rights of the employees. Followingits activism, companies began to incorporate better workingconditions and higher wages (Fletcher and Gapasin 46 Dubofsky andDulles 34). It is worth noting that changes in immigration laws thatsaw an end to mass immigration in the 1920s also contributed to theincreased numbers of native-born industrial workers, especially fromthe southern parts of America towards the northern industrializedcities between 1920 and 1960. Besides, as the industries grew due totechnological revolutions, small foundries, and workshops weresupplemented by large-scale production industries. The availabilityof commercial electricity led to the acquisition of more workforces.Industries compromised the well-being of workers. Industrial workers(majority immigrants) were overworked and poorly despite theircharitable efforts that witnessed significant industrial growth anddevelopments (Fletcher 22). The union sought to address thesechallenges.

TheMechanics` Union of Trade Associations in 1827 advocated for improvedworking conditions and equality in pay. Immigration contributedremarkably to the growth and industrial transformation in the UnitedStates. A large number of immigrants and their descendants formed aworkforce that was behind the rapid industrialization. Theselectivity and size of the minority communities (mostly immigrantsand slaves) and their disproportionate residence in townships andlarge cities where major industries were located meant that they werethe mainstay of the industrial workforce in America. Immigrantstogether with their children accounted for over half of the workersin manufacturing industries. For instance, including their thirdgeneration, recent stock immigrants comprised of over two-thirds ofAmerican industries` workers (Fantasia and Voss 65). The unionsucceeded in advocating for the improvement of terms of work,although the gains were not always satisfactory in many cases.

InternationalTypographical Union creation eased pressure on single labor unions bycreating a platform for bringing together all trade (workers) unionsin America. According to Dubofsky and Dulles, labor movements beganout of the need to uphold and protect the interest of industrialworkers. Some of the common interests of industrial workers werebetter wages, safer working conditions, reasonable working hours,ending child labor and benefits such as health care and aid toindustrial workers (retired and injured) (Dubofsky, Dulles 30). Itsuccessfully pushed for improved wage and working conditions butfailed to address issues such as workplace discrimination.


Theinfluence of labor unions in the United States cannot be emphasized.Labor unions were responsible for workers` working conditions,increased wages and salaries, the establishment of contracts forindustrial workers, aid for retired and injured workers, and reducedworking hours. On the other hand, some of the failures of the laborunions were the inability to stop child labor during the early yearsof industrialization, racial discrimination, and abuse of workers bysenior personnel.


DubofskyMelvyn, DullesFosterRhea. Laborin America: A History.HarlanDavidson, 2014. Print

FantasiaRick, VossKim.HardWork: Remaking the American Labor Movement.Universityof California Press, 2014. Print

FletcherBill, GapasinFernando.SolidarityDivided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward SocialJustice . Universityof California Press, 2012. Print

Fletcher,Bill. Unions,Organizing Cities, and a 21st-Century Labor Movement: Implicationsfor African Americans.HarvardJournal of African American Public Policy,Vol. 14, (2012). Print