Ironically, the very entities, Big Business, which despises Labor Unions are the sole reason for their existence. As the nation entered into the Industrial Revolution, the factories in the cities became magnets for rural people yearning to make a decent living for their families.
Cities like Detroit, auto making capital, Pittsburg, steel king and hundreds of others watched their population swell to overabundance seemingly overnight.
These rural workers, black and white, along with their urban counterparts were a hearty bunch of people. They were used to long hours of hard work on the farm, barely scratching out a living. Many had never seen inside plumbing before coming to the city so they weren’t the ungrateful type.
You would think the combination of cheap, hard working labor and, for that time, state of the art production methods, would be a marriage made in Business Heaven, and so it was, initially.
The time passed and the workers’ families continued to live in squalor due to no decent housing being made available and low wages kept them from moving where decent housing did exist. The workers were forced to work long hours under unbearable conditions with little to show for it.
For instance, workers at a GM factory were forced to sit inside the factory for 5 hours without water or toilet facilities, while waiting for parts to arrive. In those days working 8 hours was just that…working. If the factory was closed down 3 hours for some reason, the workers were forced to work an additional 3 hours for no pay, to make production.
The treatment of workers with production speed ups, no pay increases, no medical benefits, in fact no benefits of any kind, began to breed unrest. This simmering unrest spawned the birth of Unions. The unions provided a means in which workers, as a collective unit, could present grievances to their employer in hopes of solving problems.
Big Business resoundly rebuked the idea of any union or group of workers telling them what to do with their company. Instead of acknowledging the Union as the workers bargaining agent, the companies hired thugs and strike breakers, Pemberton being the most vicious and infamous, to destroy the unions by whatever means they deemed necessary.
Soon picket lines where unions were on strike became the scene of bloody and at times deadly confrontations between workers, hired thugs and the police. The police were nearly always on the companies’ side as the worker was viewed as breaking the peace and unlawfully occupying private property.
These bloody confrontations began gathering National attention when the National Guard was called out to break strikes. The idea of American soldiers firing on American citizens brought a public outcry which finally the politicians could no longer ignore.
President Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Law, the single most important piece of labor law ever enacted, which granted the workers the right to organize into a Union. It allowed the union to be recognized as the workers sole bargaining unit capable of negotiating contracts for better wages, benefits and working conditions.
It’s rather ironic that after years of outsourcing jobs and the Union membership numbers declining, the current treatment of American workers is rekindling the spark of unrest which originally created the need for a union.
In a perfect world of owners becoming wealthy yet sharing the wealth with the workers who produce it, there would be no need for a Union. However, as long as American business puts profits ahead of All else, ignoring society’s needs and their obligations, there will always be a need for the Union.