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Trace of the US Government’s Changing Relationship with Labor Movement from 1890 to 1940

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The labor movement in the United States has come a long way. That is, in the earlier years, any efforts that were made by tradesmen to create better working conditions was considered a criminal offense. Besides, many boot-makers and other tradespeople were convicted of criminal conspiracy just because they tried to negotiate for better working conditions. Initially, long working hours, low pay, and child labor were the primary characteristics that were associated with American factories. Furthermore, child labor remained to be the most challenging problem in the U.S. through to the early 20th century. Various policies were initiated in the 18th and 19th centuries that affected the government’s ability to intercede in the disputes concerning labor activities. Principles such as the principle of Laissez-Faire opposed the U.S. government’s interference with economic affairs.

Consequently, the increased number of children that worked in most American factories between 1890 to 1920 was as a result of the rapid growth of American industries. From 1932, the call for child labor and the unbearable condition reformation became so obvious. That is, Franklin Roosevelt came up with a New Deal Coalition after his election. The New Deal had its primary concern in reconstruction. Besides, various policies have been initiated by the U.S. government with the aid of the Labor Movement throughout the journey to ensure that collective bargain, fee commerce, and freedom of association were enhanced. The aim of this paper, therefore, is to chronologically trace the government’s changing relationship with the labor movement from 1890 to 1940.

The United States’ labor movement was developed to protect the interest of every worker in organized labor unions, industrial sectors, and other areas. The interest of the workers, in this case, were an enhanced and better working environment, better wages, and reasonable working hours. However, the labor movement has faced various challenges ranging from the formation of policies that prevents it from interceding on matters concerning such labor disputes and problems. An example of such systems is the Laissez-Faire, which was developed in the 18th century. All in all, from 1890 onwards, the labor movement gained powers and grew out to protect the mentioned interests of the workers. However, the major challenge throughout the journey was the 1920’s Great Depression, which knocked on the labor movement and its efforts.

That is, in 1890, the Carpenter President Peter J. McGuire, together with the labor union, organized a strike that was purposely meant to fight for the worker’s rights. It is in this year that the team won for the eight-hour working time for more than 28,000 workers and members of the union. In subsequent years, various unions were developed to assist in ending the harsh working conditions that the workers were exposed to. For instance, in 1892, the Iron and Steelworkers union defeated in the lockout at Pennsylvania. In the same year, the integrated general strike organized in New Orleans succeeded. In 1894, a mega strike erupted as a result of the boycott by the Pullman sleeping cars. However, in 1903, the Women’s Trade Union League was formed at the AFL convention to assist in fighting for gender equality. It is, therefore, right to state that most of the 1890s, the labor movement and unions spent it fighting for recognition of the worker’s rights, interests, and needs. This marks some of the examples of the fights that called for historical changes or watershed moments.

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In the 1920s, the achievements acquired by the movement were shuttered as a result of the Great Depression, Labor Schism, and War, which conflicted with the American economy. However, after Franklin Roosevelt’s election, a lot of reformation was done. Policies, economic constitutions, laws, and economic rights were developed to support commercial activities, association freedom, and self-organizations with the help of the government. In 1933 after Roosevelt’s election, the New Deal came up with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to create dams that would provide electricity to the impoverished people in that region. In the same year, the New Deals came up with the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), an agricultural initiative to reduce production. There were multiple cases of underconsumption and overproduction.

In 1935, two Acts were developed concerning workers’ needs and interests. The National Labor Relations Act (1935), also known as the Wagner Act (1935), was developed as a Law that granted unions the right to obligate and organize employers to bargain collectively on the matters of employment such as the working hours, terms and conditions, and the wages. Since 1935, this law has been useful as it serves as the foundation of the current U.S. labor law. However, in the same year, the Social Security Act (1935) was passed as a New Deal legislation pushed by Franklin Roosevelt. The bill pushed for the provision of unemployment insurance for the workers as an aid to dependent children and physically disabled people. The Social Security Act also provided pensions and improved public health to workers at an old age.

In 1938, the Committee for Industrial Organization was founded, it was later named as the Congress of Industrial Organization or the CIO (1938). The CIO, together with its leader, John Lewis, was after the mobilization of workers across various occupational lines in a particular industry. This movement ensured that the labor or the union door was open to mass production and labor’s primary constituency or mass-production workers.

It is, therefore, right to state that the New Deal, which was initiated by Roosevelt after his election, marks the government’s changing relationship with the labor movement from 1890 to 1940. Furthermore, through the policies and laws, a large number of workers have been relieved from their work depression. This achievement has been attained through the provision of jobs, medical support, unemployment insurance, and pensions through the Social Security Act (1935). New Deals also ensured that stock restrictions were put on the working hours. The collective bargain between employers and employees on terms and conditions, wages, and working hours were also initiated under Roosevelt’s leadership, and this was through the development of the Wagner Act (1935).


  1. James L. Roark, Michael P. Johnson, Patricia Cline Cohen, Sarah Stage, Alan Lawson, and Susan M. Hartmann, The American Promise: A History of the United States, Volume II: From 1865, 4th Edition, Value Edition (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin, 2009),
  2. Field, Alexander J. ‘The impact of the Second World War on US productivity growth 1.’ The Economic History Review 61, no. 3 (2008): 672-694.
  3. 29 U.S.C. § 151 [The National Labor Relations Act, July 5, 1935].

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