Saturday, December 1, 2012

On Early Industrial Unionism in America

On Early Industrial Unionism in America: In 1935, when Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (or Wagner Act) as part of Franklin Roosevelt's "Second" New Deal, union membership in the United States grew quickly compared to past decades. Prior to the Wagner Act, unions such as the American Federation of Labor (AFL), mainly focused on crafts such as cigar making or woodworking. Given the rise of large-scale industries like railroads, steel, mining, and automobiles, in the decades prior to the 1930s, it was clear that craft unionism did not meet the needs of industrial workers. One man who demanded fundamental change in the AFL was John L. Lewis, a representative of the (coal) mining industry. By 1938, AFL leaders had had enough of Lewis' calls for reform, so they expelled him. He then founded the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which focused on organizing mass production workers on an industry-wide basis. The CIO marked the first major not-so-radical industrial union in America, and thus, it rapidly gained credibility and membership. Before the CIO, however, industrial unions such as the American Railway Union (ARU) were too radical to affect change at the federal level, as its leader, Eugene V. Debs, became a self-identified socialist in the 1890s (after the Pullman Strike), and thus, he was the subject of frequent police surveillance.

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