Melvyn Dubofsky and Foster Rhea Dulles - Labor in America: A History

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Development of work ethics and employee relations as we know it today

Jan 10, 2005
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great pictures and descriptions of labor throughout the years

Cons:Somewhat boring topic, but good writing helps

The Bottom Line: Labor in America is a great piece of writing that I think every American should read. It goes to show how we've grown in history.


I obviously, have a fancy for non-fiction titles, being that I don't think I have done a single review on any item of fiction. That is because of my great desire to learn and to know about as much as I can before I die. I want to be as knowledgeable about the world, our history, and what makes us who we are, as I can possibly be. So, I take the time to read history books, science books, health books, things like that, rather than reading the fiction books that many are entertained by. One of my favorite books, which is somewhat of a boring topic, but has some extremely great history and information in it, would be Labor In America : a history.

Concept
Labor in America is a book that takes labor and totally looks at the overall picture. What developed what our current system of labor is like? What was the history of labor in the United States and how have we come upon our current system?

The book goes on to show what changed labor in the United States for the better and for the worse. Shows who influenced many of the major moves by the government to protect employees and goes through the formation of unions and everything that effects labor.

Chapter 1 : Colonial America
Goes back to the very first days of our country, where endentured servitude was pretty much commonplace and labor relations weren't all that great. Talks more about how all of the events of the time, really shaped how businesses were run and how employers treated their people. During this time period, a job was much different than it is today, and you were considered lucky to have a trade that you could work at, and employers took advantage of that.

Chapter 2 : The First Unions
Excellent chapter and the creation and formation of the first unions. Talks about things that led up to the creation of the very first union and why the were necessary during that time. Other things that formed were new labor laws and laws that protected unions and businesses alike.

Chapter 3 : Workingmen's Parties
Discusses the use of unions to affect political outcomes. The workingmen's parties, were started by the mechanic's union and were used to get people together in favor of a particular candidate that would help their cause. This gave an entirely different spin to how candidates now had to campaign. The workingmen's parties are still a major part of modern day politics, however, they aren't exactly the same. Today, thanks to better media coverage, a particular union will just endorse a candidate, rather than holding political rallies.

Chapter 4 : Labor Strength in the 1830's
During this time period, unions were growing increasingly more powerful and as such, companies were losing the power that they once had over their employees. They no longer had complete control over everything. The companies tried to fight back, and employees began some of the first strikes. These strikes went to show the businesses that they were serious. Unfortunately, the businesses reacted by terminating many of the members. This is when laws came into place protecting unions, so that union members had the right to strike, and companies, had to pretty much allow it.

The chapter also goes into the final beginning decline of unions and how they ultimately began to disappear in the United States.

Chapter 5 : The Impact of Industrialism
This was a huge time in the United States and in this section a lot of time is taken to discuss what happens when technology eliminates jobs and bypasses the union altogether. The need to lower costs, created a need for more efficient machinery. This machinery required less people to do the same job as before, causing the elimination of a lot of union jobs. By forcing the higher wages, the unions also forced on the need for the new technologies, which ultimately hurt the unions. During this time there began a lot of distrust for unions as job security was no longer an assumption.

Chapter 6 : Toward National Organization
Talks about the National Labor Union and how it impacted a great deal of laws in the United States. Then the Depression hits and the United States labor market declines substantially and the unions have nothing they can do to respond.

Chapter 7 : An Era of Upheaval
Talks about many of the great conflicts of the time. Railroads were beginning to become a big thing during this time period and more and more individuals were being employed to build more railroads. Eventually unions were formed for railroad workers and of course, strikes followed shortly after. Another thing that is discussed is the Haymarket Riot that took place in the 1870's in Haymarket square. The riot was started by striking railroad workers upset with current policies and wages.

Chapter 8 : The rise and the decline of the Knights of Labor
Talks about the knights of labor and their origins. Not to mention their rise and fall in pretty good detail.

Chapter 9 : The American Federation of Labor
How the american federation of labor affected business and how businessmen were affected by the new movement. Different policies were created that made business environments more acceptable.

Chapter 10 : Homestead and Pullman
One of the greatest strikes and boycotts in history was the Great Pullman strike and boycott. This section talks about how that happened and what was done to resolve it. During this time, unemployment was very high and companies weren't having anything to do with unions. Individuals were allowed to strike and new employees would be brought in to show the striking employees that they could be the next unemployed. Workers began to march on Washington to try and get more regulations and support.

Chapter 11 : The Progressive Era
Employers and unions now start working together towards common goals and developing long term plans. There are still however strikes all across the country as coal miners fight for better working conditions. Too many coal miners were dying, because of lack of ventilation and improper equipment. The coal miners wanted all of this to change and began to strike. Immigrant workers also began to become unionized during this time.

Chapter 12 : Thunder on the left
The industrial workers of the world were formed and started having secret meetings in Chicago in order to discuss the formation of their new group. This group was formed to fight capitalism and promote socialism. The members of the group consisted of socialists, anarchists, dissidents, and other extremely radical groups from throughout the United States.

Chapter 13 : The first World War and after
Talks about what happened during the war. Women were brought in to work in place of the men who went off to war. The strikes of 1919, in which there are hundreds of strikes nationwide, resulting in quite a bit of chaos.

Chapter 14 : Labor in Retreat
New policies were beginning to be created for workers and those that were unemployed. Policies such as welfare began to appear. Organized labor was now beginning to take a major hit in memberships.

Chapter 15 : The New Deal
During this period of time, Roosevelt had put into place a number of policies that would help to lower the unemployment rate and give unions a lot more power. Roosevelt supported the AFL's idea for 30 hour work weeks, which would allow for labor to be spread out and more people would be hired, thus lowering unemployment.

Chapter 16 : The rise of the Congress of Industrial Organizations
Great time is taken to discuss how the CIO split from the AFL in order to create a union that was dedicated to the unskilled workers, which weren't truly being represented with the AFL as their main focus was for the skilled tradesmen. New laws from the New Deal made it possible for the new union to prosper and quickly gain strength.

Chapter 17 : Labor and Politics
This is the time just before the second World War, where businesses began to become leary about making huge moves, as they were afraid of a recession. Labor began to drop off somewhat and unemployment went up as businesses began to decrease their stockpiles in order to prepare for a potential upcoming war and recession.

Chapter 18 : The Second World War
The second world war hits and disrupts labor in the United States. Many large businesses had responded early with layoffs and reduction of stockpiles, so those that were employed going into World War II, were much safer than they would have been, had businesses not seen this coming. During this time, there were massive strikes that only led to raging war issues. Businesses were making less money, and employees wanted more of it.

Chapter 19 : Merger of the CIO and AFL
The AFL and the CIO, which had become the two largest unions in perhaps the world during this time, originally were together as one single entity. However, they split up and became two even larger entities. Well, time had passed, and the two groups decided that they should get back together and form the single largest union in the world, and create a virtual union monopoly.

Chapter 20 : Disappointed Hopes
Huge declines in labor as political scandals were unfolded. Race wars started and equal rights were becoming more of a necessity of business. Those that were originally not included in union talks, were now becoming a large portion of talks, and thus businesses had to make a move and layoff workers to pay these new wages and benefits to employees that formerly weren't covered.

Chapter 21 : An uncertain future: Labor since the '70's
Discusses labor in the United States since the 1970's and what are hopes are for the future. Most of the unions have lost substantial strength by this point in time and are declining rapidly. Businesses are willingly supporting their employees in order to compete for the best of the best. Unions are becoming a major thing of the past as there's no longer a need for them to negotiate with businesses that are willingly supporting their employees.

Overview
Labor in America is a very well thought out book that totally covers the labor issues that the United States has encountered throughout it's history. The formation of unions to the decline and fall of most of them. Everything leads up to current day politics and business and how labor relations exist today.

I feel that this book is an important read and a great perspective into how things have come to be in the United States. Too often we take for granted many of the rights, the benefits, and the laws that are in place in order to protect us as employees, but they didn't come cheap. Many people dedicated their lives to making many of these labor concepts a reality.

The best thing about the book would have to be the pictures laced throughout. You can really get a better idea of the times, when you look at the pictures.

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