What Caused the Labor Movement?

Everything Michigan

What Caused the Labor Movement?

April 12, 2024 Blog Business Education 0

Growing up in a Sicilian family in the Detroit, Michigan area, we learned, almost by instinct, the great significance of labor unions and The Motor City. In case you haven’t heard, two of the largest automakers’ world headquarters are located in Michigan. With Ford Motor Company in Dearborn and General Motors in Downtown Detroit on the Detroit River, it sets the stage for all the tier one and tier two suppliers to pop up all over the Metro-Detroit area.

To say that labor unions are essential for our labor force and middle class would be an understatement, as our State relies heavily on the income generated in and around the auto industry. In my family, we feel fierce about keeping the unions as strong protectors of our livelihood, our workers’ compensation, and our legal affairs in Michigan. It is of the utmost importance.

Although I am a writer, I can tell you that a lot of our clients rely on the automotive industry, either directly or indirectly. It’s kind of like that six degrees of separation – Kevin Bacon game. Unless you are “up north” (which is anything north of Saginaw), or on the “west side” (along the shores of Lake Michigan), and maybe Ann Arbor too with The University of Michigan, our State’s commerce is driven by the auto industry. (no pun intended)

According to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ recent key findings:

  • A worker died every 96 minutes from a work-related injury in 2022 compared to 101 minutes in 2021.
  • Fatalities due to violence and other injuries by persons or animals increased 11.6 percent to 849 in 2022, compared to 761 in 2021. Homicides accounted for 61.7 percent of these fatalities, with 524 deaths, an 8.9 percent increase from 2021.
  • Unintentional overdoses increased 13.1 percent to a series high of 525 fatalities in 2022, up from 464 in 2021, continuing a trend of annual increases since 2012.
  • Workers in transportation and material moving occupations experienced 1,620 fatal work injuries in 2022 and represented the occupational group with the most fatalities. The next highest was construction and extraction workers, with 1,056 fatalities, an 11.0-percent increase from 2021.
  • Transportation incidents remained the most frequent type of fatal event, accounting for 37.7 percent of all occupational fatalities. There were 2,066 fatal injuries from transportation incidents in 2022, a 4.2-percent increase from 1,982 in 2021,”.

History of labor unions in the United States

In 1768, New York saw its first recorded strike when journeymen tailors protested a reduction in wages. Fast forward to 1794, the formation of the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers in Philadelphia marked the beginning of sustained trade union organization among American workers.

As we move into the late 1800s, workers began organizing unions to address the pressing issues of low wages and unsafe working conditions. By coming together in solidarity, these workers found strength in numbers and established local unions that later evolved into national unions.

From the period spanning the Civil War through World War I, labor unions experienced growth in both power and membership. Although their influence waned somewhat in the 1920s, the arrival of the Great Depression swiftly reversed this trend. In desperate need of employment and protection, workers once again sought refuge in their local trade unions.

In a news story published by PBS, “The first labor union in the United States was the the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers (leather workers and cobblers), founded in 1794. However, by 1806, requests for wage increases caused factory owners to sue on the charge of “criminal conspiracy,” as labor union law had not yet been firmly established. The court ruled in favor of the owners, the Society was bankrupted, and any union member could be charged with conspiracy until an 1842 case ruled otherwise,”.

Well, that isn’t very pleasant to learn – just another reason working people must continue to stand together. Unless you work for Google, most companies have plenty of room to grow in areas of how they treat their employees, provide benefits, family time off, etc.

PBS went on to also note, “During the Great Depression and the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, unions gained more governmental support than they had in the past, with the National Labor Relations Act ensuring the right for workers to organize into unions and strike and the Fair Labor Standards Act guaranteeing a minimum wage, a forty-hour work week, and the end of child labor. Future executive orders from John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon would expand the former act to include unions for federal workers,”.

Unfortunately, the Reagan administration leaned away from union support. In fact, when the air traffic controllers went on strike in 1981, Reagan responded by simply firing them, dealing a big blow to unions for the coming decades.

What was the largest labor strike in U.S. history?

The largest strike in U.S. history was the Steel Strike of 1959, which lasted 116 days between July and November of 1959. The strike involved half a million workers and members of the United Steelworks of America union due to a dispute over wages and changes to workplace rules.

In a Pembroke Florida Channel 10 local news feature, they shared that the following is a list of the ten most significant labor strikes in U.S. history:

  1. 1902, The Great Anthracite Coal Strike with the United Mine Workers of America
  2. August 1997 UPS Workers Strike, Organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters
  3. March 1886, The Great Southwest Railroad Strike
  4. March 1970, The U.S. Postal Strike
  5. May 11 through July 20, 1894, The Pullman Strike, a railroad strike
  6. The Steel Strike of 1919
  7. September 1934, The Textile Workers Strike
  8. United Mine Workers of America Strike, April 1946
  9. The Great Railroad Strike of 1922
  10. The Steel Strike of 1959

What caused the labor movement?

In conclusion, the labor movement in the United States has been fueled by the tireless efforts of working people coming together to fight for fair wages, safe working conditions, and fundamental rights. From the early days of the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers to the monumental Steel Strike of 1959, workers have shown strength and resilience in the face of adversity.

While the path has not always been easy, history has proven that unity and solidarity are powerful tools in the fight for justice. As we continue to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of labor rights, let us remember the importance of standing together to create a better future for all.

With liberty and justice for all…