This paper is aimed at discussing the history of labor unions in United States during World War-I period while presenting the situation after World War-I. The post-World War-I era of labor unions has been briefly touched upon right after the introduction of the paper. Various tactics used by employers as well as government to reduce unionization among labor is also briefed in this paper. The tactics mentioned in this paper include union busting, brute force against unions, strike breaking by students, and labor spies by the employers. The paper in ended by a concise conclusion while summarizing the main points of the paper.
World War-I brought large scale disasters for world’s large economies including the economy of United States. The post-World War 1 era was the time of the great depression in terms of socio-economic distress. Food inflation index increased by approximately 100% and the prices for clothing increased by about 200%. In 1919, a steel-deadlock between the Labor-Union and the Management that started in Chicago proved to be a lot more than a mere disagreement. Aggravating emotions of Civil Distress and insecurities of Bolshevism were a direct result of this Steel Strike of 1919. Labor unions not only recuperated but became more structured and authoritative during the World War-I period. Majority of the Unions were approved, and the 12-hour working shift was replaced by eight hour shift as war contract work. In 1919, almost 50% of the labor force was on a 48 hour weekly shift which was considered as a big achievement by the labor unions. The employers tried their best to overcome the power of labor unions through various tactics.
The War ended, but the overall disaster in the Labor industry just started. Workforce unions called for more authority, rights, recognition & incremented rates on lesser working hours to deal with the rising inflation rate. Around 20% of the nation, which accounted for more than 4 million labors, was a part of the strikes in the year 1919. This strike included 365,000 steel workers and 400,000 mine-workers. But the real deadlock started in the year of 1937, the year of the great depression. It all started with a routine protest in Seattle. Security personnel in Boston also went on strike that resulted in increased numbers of offenses and unrest. However, the steel industry saw a devastating strike when more than 350,000 labors in 24 different craft unions called for strike conforming to the uprising by the American Federation of Labor for forming labor unions across the industry. The other affected party i.e. the company’s management considered all this as a cheap conspiracy by agitators and power hungry labor leaders. They termed this all a treacherous plan to get paid for 12 hours with actual work-time being of 8 hours only. In the midst of all this, some other interesting events were also taking place. For example, communists completed their domination in Hungary and workers in Germany & Italy started a strong civil disobedience protest by taking over factories and manufacturing facilities. Top hierarchies of many companies were of the view that this steel trike is the stepping stone for toppling the capitalist industrial system.
Over the years, many creative tactics have been used by employers for crashing and dismantling labor unions. The ways used range from hiring specialized agents to thugs and bounty hunters. It was revealed by Morris Friedman that the Western federation of miners was broken by a Pinkerton intelligence agent who bypassed the union’s leaders and offered the workers luxurious perks and benefits to end the deadlock. On the contrary, ruthless actions and strikes have also crashed many labor unions.
Brute force against unions
The first red scare incident cannot be ignored. It was a rash attack on the Industrial workers of the world IWW. They were simply undone by the Palmer Invasions. Later on Sunday Nov 5, 1916, the IWW members and public authorities had a bloody conflict in Everett, Washington. The Communist IWW was secluded and shattered. However, their workers re-emerged into the scene with the help of other Unions in the course of Second Red Scare.
Strike Breaking by Students
With the exit of subway workers, Employer Interborough Rapid Transit in NY City requested university students to come forward and act as motormen, conductors, ticket sellers and ticket choppers. Stephen Norword states in his research that this culture of breaking strikes via students started prevailing in North American in the 20th Century. Many industrialists who were unable to find any solution to the oppression of these strike makers lobbies finally turned to students who did volunteer public work especially between the years 1901 till 1923, thus weakening the strong foothold of these labor unions.
Another example is of Pearl Bergoff. He also commenced his career from NY City. Started working as tracking agent on main metropolitan street railway in Manhattan to ensure that Fares were promptly noted by the conductors. In the year 1905, Bergoff initiated his own company by the name of Vigilant Detective Agency of New York. In next two years, his brother also started working with him in this profitable venture and the name was amended to Bergoff Brothers Strike Service and Labor Adjusters. Their company’s early assignments comprised of extreme ruthless aggression against the labor unions. They received similar responses from strikers such as stone and brick attacks from rooftops and roadside pavements.
Sturdy opportunists were hired on an immense scale in the start of 1920s, resulted in fewer strike rates and fewer opportunities than before. The concept of introducing employee spies created a great attention in 1930s. Under cover federations recruited in order to ruin the unions’ targets. Secret agents struggled to construct rumors causing disputes between unions and even among the agitators. Different approaches took place in this matter for instance; lady televangelist played a vital role in this manner by linking bawl stories regarding the after effects of the strikes of how they demolish the everyday life of a common man. They usually targeted the families of agitators to gain the emotional sympathy; such operations are widely famous in wrecking both ends that are strikes as well as the federations too.
Nearly hundred dozen of labor spies was hired by the Pinkerton Agency in 1930 and many of them were placed on top ranks in the hierarchy. Sam Brady, a veteran Pinkerton official provoked an untimely strike as he held a furthest position in that union vandalized the International Association of Machinists. All United Auto Workers’ locals were purged, even in the Underwood Elliott Fisher Company plant; a revolutionary destruction occurred in the same manner and became a vital reason in descending the attender’s ratio lesser to seventy-five.
During the first decade of the 19th century, a catalogue was composed to support patrons against union attacks. The directory was available in 1921 around the United States. Antithetical approaches, leadership management, skillful missions, rejections to toil with business, all of these were comprised in a systematic way to produce efficient approach. Some fundamental hypothesis and speculations highlighting the attitudes of employer’s federations of that era were discussed by Hoxie. It indulged the phenomena of considerations that the interest level of both employers and the community should be uniform, and workers’ leagues should be highly criticized whenever they raise an issue regardless of any one’s favor. Furthermore, the representatives of workers’ league should be considered as outsiders and blamed as they are the most powerful source to misguide the common labor and tends to cause unnecessary strikes. Moreover, these outside federations minimize the morality of workers and bound them to work as a federation to which they are bounded wants. They never abide the law and breach the orders of the society.
Robert Hoxie lit a valid point after the rapid rise in patron’s associations against workers’ unions. According to him, if it is legal for a president or the entrepreneur to work hassle free without the interruption from an external force of workers, there should be equal opportunity given to labor league to superintend their work affairs without intrusions.
The workforce in American history, especially, while World War-I was strong in terms of unionization and carrying out strikes in order to force their employers to agree upon their demands. Employers used various tactics to reduce the trends of unionization that included union busting, brute force against unions, strike breaking by students, and labor spies. These methods were of great help in putting people back to work while little room was left for them to negotiate their demands with their employers. Labor unions in the post-World War-I era were neither supported by government nor by general public as it was portrayed by the companies that these contributed towards unemployment and reduced GDP.
AP U.S. History Notes. "America's Economy Roars." n.d. http://www.apstudynotes.org. 06 May 2014.
Norwood, Stephen H. "Strikebreaking and Intimidation: Mercenaries and Masculinity in Twentieth-Century America." August 2003. http://eh.net. 04 May 2014.
United States Department of Labor. "Wage and Hour Division (WHD)." July 2009. http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs54.htm. 06 May 2014.
"William "Big Bill" Haywood." n.d. http://www.3rd1000.com/history3/events/cdamines/pettibone.htm. 05 May 2014.