which of the following best accounts for the success of the american federation of labor in organizing labor in the late 1800s?
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The American Federation of Labor: Definition, Goals & History
In the late nineteenth century, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) formed and fought at the center of the labor movement. In this lesson, dive...
Successes and Failures of the AFL
Gompers's strategy was simple: use strikes to force concessions from business owners. The AFL sought tangible economic gains, such as higher wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions. They also made sure that they avoided politics. With this strategy, the AFL scored major workplace improvements, such as when an AFL-affiliated cigar makers' union fought successfully in 1890 for the establishment of an 8-hour day. Until then, the 10-hour day was commonplace. Soon, additional craft unions of printers, granite cutters, and coal miners established shorter working hours. Such AFL-led advances made it the most important labor organization in the United States. At the turn of the century it boasted 500,000 members and by 1914 its membership topped two million.
Such momentum could not last forever. After World War I ended in 1918, the country faced a major economic downturn. In response to hard times, business owners laid off many workers and turned against unions. The year 1919 witnessed massive strikes involving millions of laborers. The AFL initiated a general strike, the largest in history, and it shut down the city of Seattle. Gompers then called for a major strike in the steel industry, and in 1919, over 350,000 workers across the country walked out of their factories.
The AFL-led strikes of the postwar period were less successful than those of the late nineteenth century. Most of the strikes descended into violence, and public opinion soon shifted in opposition to unions. Workers' organizations declined steadily through the 1920s, and AFL membership was down from four million in 1920 to two-and-a-half million at the end of the decade.
Labor, The Great Depression, and AFL
In the early 1930s, the Great Depression descended all over the land. All Americans, workers included, struggled mightily. The AFL, now led by William Green, became more militant. Green proclaimed, 'I warn the people who are exploiting the workers that they can drive them only so far before they will turn on them and destroy them. They are taking no account of the history of nations in which governments have been overturned, Revolutions grow out of the depths of hunger.' In March of 1932, at Henry Ford's automobile factory in Dearborn, Michigan, unemployed workers flooded the property and demanded jobs. They clashed with Ford's security service and four died. The early years of the Depression looked bleak, indeed, for labor unions.
Until President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, however, the federal government supported labor organizations and urged workers to unionize. The Roosevelt administration argued that strong unions would balance the power of big business, help maintain wage rates, and replace strike violence with commercial stability. In 1935, Congress passed the Wagner Act. This legislation protected workers' rights to organize and mandated owners negotiate with labor leaders.
The situation, though, led to the development of competing labor factions, basically skilled versus unskilled workers' groups. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), another group of unions of mostly unskilled industrial laborers, was formed and skilled craft unions, such as the AFL, feared being outnumbered by such mass unions. In 1936, the AFL expelled unions affiliated with the CIO. Despite this dispute between mostly unskilled unionists in the CIO and craft unionists in the AFL, the two organizations eventually ended their estrangement in 1955, when they merged into the AFL-CIO national confederation. The AFL-CIO became the largest federation of unions in the United States and remains so.
In response to rapid industrialization in the U.S. during the late nineteenth century, workers organized into unions. Samuel Gompers was the unionist who helped found the American Federation of Labor. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was a loose amalgamation of skilled craft unions, in contrast to other unions that admitted unskilled laborers. The AFL sought tangible economic gains, such as higher wages, shorter hours, and better conditions, in addition to staying out of politics. The AFL strategy involved using strikes to pressure owners to improve work conditions. This strategy was effective from the 1890s through the 1910s, as AFL-led campaigns resulted in real gains for workers.
When the economy declined beginning in 1919 and through the 1930s, strike violence and workplace closures detrimentally affected unions, the AFL included. With the Wagner Act of the New Deal, unions were given the support of the federal government. Despite this, a breech developed between the mass of unskilled workers in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the skilled craft unionists in the AFL. This breech was healed in the mid-1950s when the two groups merged to form the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States.
Labor Unions During the Great Depression and New Deal
In the early 1930s, as the nation slid toward the depths of depression, the future of organized labor seemed bleak.
Presentation U.S. History Primary Source Timeline
Labor Unions During the Great Depression and New Deal
In the early 1930s, as the nation slid toward the depths of depression, the future of organized labor seemed bleak. In 1933, the number of labor union members was around 3 million, compared to 5 million a decade before. Most union members in 1933 belonged to skilled craft unions, most of which were affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
The union movement had failed in the previous 50 years to organize the much larger number of laborers in such mass production industries as steel, textiles, mining, and automobiles. These, rather than the skilled crafts, were to be the major growth industries of the first half of the 20th century.
Although the future of labor unions looked grim in 1933, their fortunes would soon change. The tremendous gains labor unions experienced in the 1930s resulted, in part, from the pro-union stance of the Roosevelt administration and from legislation enacted by Congress during the early New Deal. The National Industrial Recovery Act (1933) provided for collective bargaining. The 1935 National Labor Relations Act (also known as the Wagner Act) required businesses to bargain in good faith with any union supported by the majority of their employees. Meanwhile, the Congress of Industrial Organizations split from the AFL and became much more aggressive in organizing unskilled workers who had not been represented before. Strikes of various kinds became important organizing tools of the CIO.
To find additional documents on this topic from Loc.gov, use such search terms as labor, worker, labor union, factory, Congress of Industrial Organizations, and American Federation of Labor.
American Federation of Labor
Other articles where American Federation of Labor is discussed: AFL–CIO: …by the merger of the AFL (founded 1886), which originally organized workers in craft unions, and the CIO (founded 1935), which organized workers by industries.
…and first president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
…fostered the establishment of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in December 1886. The AFL focused on winning economic benefits for its members through collective bargaining. As a federation, it represented several national craft unions that each retained autonomous operations. The Knights, by contrast, represented both craft and unskilled workers…
…became an organizer for the American Federation of Labor (AFL), with which the miners’ union was affiliated. Lewis became a vice president of the UMWA in 1917, acting president in 1919, and president in 1920, by which time the UMWA had become the largest trade union in the United States.…
…half the affiliates of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) barred Blacks from membership, took his union into the AFL. Despite opposition, he built the first successful Black trade union; the brotherhood won its first major contract with the Pullman Company in 1937. The following year, Randolph removed his union…
…Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, appointed her the federation’s first woman general organizer. During the year she held the post, she organized garment workers in New York City and Troy, New York, and printers, binders, shoe workers, and carpet weavers in Massachusetts. She then returned to…
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