"Growing Pains" of the American Labor Movement

AuthorWilliam M. Leiserson
DOI10.1177/000271624222400102
Published date01 November 1942
Date01 November 1942
Subject MatterArticles
1
"Growing
Pains"
of
the
American
Labor
Movement
By
WILLIAM
M.
LEISERSON
HE
American
labor
movement
is
Tas
old
as
that
of
any
other
country,
yet
we
still
speak
of
its
growing
pains.
Historians
of
labor
in
the
United
States
&dquo;place
the
beginning
of
American
labor
movements
in
the
year
1827
in
Phila-
delphia.
In
that
year
and
place
Ameri-
can
wage
earners
for
the
first
time
joined
together
as
a
class,
regardless
of
trade
lines,
in
a
contest
with
employ-
ers.&dquo;
I
The
Quaker
City’s
local
craft
t
organizations,
known
then
as
trade
as-
sociations,
formed
a
Mechanics
Union
of
Trade
Associations
which
conducted
a
city-wide
strike
for
a
shorter
work
day
to
supplant
the
custom
of
working
from
sun
to
sun.
This
was
the
first
co-
ordinated
movement
of
organized
trades,
the
origin
of
what
we
now
call
central
labor
unions,
or
city
federations
of
la-
bor.
Abroad,
the
first
similar
movement
came
two
years
later
in
Manchester,
England,
although
an
unsuccessful
at-
tempt
to
form
a
union
of
trade
societies
in
that
city
was
made
in
1826.
Philadelphia
was
the
cradle
of
the
American
labor
movement
as
well
as
the
cradle
of
American
liberty.
The
first
organization
of
a
single
trade
and
the
first
wage
earners’
strike
also
occurred
in
Philadelphia.
In
1786
the
printers
&dquo;turned
out&dquo;
demanding
a
minimum
wage
of
six
dollars
a
week,
and
records
of
conspiracy
trials
indicate
that
shoe-
makers
and
tailors
were
not
far
be-
hind
them
in
organizing
and
conducting
strikes.
The
Philadelphia
movement
of
1827,
which
was
led
by
the
building
trades,
soon
spread
to
New
York
and
other
cities
and
was
accompanied
by
political
movements
in
the
form
of
workingmen’s
parties.
In
1834
we
see
the
mechanics’
unions
of
various
cities
forming
a
National
Trades
Union,
which
functioned
for
several
years,
only
to
disappear
in
the
panic
of
1837.
EXPERIENCE
Is
NOT
LACKING
The
organization
of
American
labor
thus
dates
back
to
the
very
beginning
of
the
United
States
as
a
nation.
It
is
true
that
successful
organization
of
the
mass
production
industries
was
accom-
plished
only
during
the
last
decade;
but
these
industries
themselves
are
rela-
tively
recent
phenomena,
and
their
or-
ganization
was
accomplished
under
the
leadership
of
miners,
clothing
workers,
textile
and
shoe
workers,
who
had
a
ripe
experience
of industrial
unionism
be-
hind
them.
Although
England
saw
the
establishment
of
stable
organizations
of
unskilled
and
semiskilled
workers
prior
to
the
end
of
the
nineteenth
century,
the
labor
movement
in
this
country
was
not
far
behind.
During
the
first
and
second
decades
of
the
present
century
success-
ful
organizations
of
factory
workers
and
unskilled
laborers
were
bargaining
and
maintaining
contracts
with
employers.
Not
until
the
mass
production
industries
were
organized
did
the
proportion
of
American
union
members
to
total
wage
earners
reach
a
percentage
comparable
to
the
British,
but
though
numerically
weaker
until
recent
years,
the
American
labor
movement
within
the
areas
in
which
it
functioned
has
been
as
strong
and
as
fully
developed
as
the
British.
Its
economic
and
political
objectives,
like
its
bargaining
policies,
trade
prac-
tices,
and
strike
methods,
are
as
old
and
tried
as
those
of
any
other
existing
labor
movement.
If
the
American
labor
movement
seems
less
mature,
if
its
troubles
have
the
appearance
of
growing
pains,
this
1
John
R.
Commons
and
associates,
History
of
Labour
in
the
United
States
(Macmillan,
1921),
Vol. 1, p.
25.
at SAGE PUBLICATIONS on December 4, 2012ann.sagepub.comDownloaded from

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