Labour movement

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The labour movement or labor movement is a broad term for the development of a collective organization of working people, to campaign for better working conditions and treatment from their employers and governments, in particular through the implementation of labour and employment law. Trade unions are collective organizations within societies, organized for the purpose of representing the interests of workers and the working class. Many ruling class individuals and political groups may also be active in and part of the labour movement.

In some countries, especially the United Kingdom and Australia the labour movement is understood to encompass a formal "political wing", frequently known by the name labour party or workers' party, which complements the aforementioned "industrial wing".

History[edit]

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, December 3, 1861[1]

In Europe, the labour movement began during the industrial revolution, when agricultural jobs declined and employment moved to more industrial areas. The idea met with great resistance. In the 20th century and early 19th century, groups such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs of Dorset were punished and transported for forming unions, which was against the laws of the time.

The labour movement was active in the early to mid 19th century and various labour parties and trade unions were formed throughout the industrialised world. The International Workingmen's Association, the first attempt at international coordination, was founded in London in 1864. The key points were the right of the workers to organize themselves, the right to an 8 hour working day etc. In 1871 the workers in France rebelled and the Paris Commune was formed. From the mid-nineteenth century onward the labour movement become increasingly globalized.[2]

The movement gained major impetus in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from the Catholic Social Teaching tradition which began in 1891 with the publication of Pope Leo XIII's foundational document, Rerum Novarum, also known as "On the Condition of the Working Classes," in which he advocated a series of reforms including limits on the length of the work day, a living wage, the elimination of child labour, the rights of labour to organize, and the duty of the state to regulate labor conditions.

Throughout the world, action by the labour movement has led to reforms and workers' rights, such as the two-day weekend, minimum wage, paid holidays, and the achievement of the eight-hour day for many workers. There have been many important labor activists in modern history who have caused changes that were revolutionary at the time and are now regarded as basic. For example, Mary Harris Jones, better known as "Mother Jones", and the National Catholic Welfare Council were central in the campaign to end child labour in the United States during the early 20th century. An active and free labor movement is considered by many to be an important element in maintaining democracy and for economic development.

Labour parties[edit]

Modern labour parties originated from an upsurge in organizing activities in Europe and European colonies during the 19th century, such as the Chartist movement in Britain during 1838–50.

In 1891, localised labour parties were formed, by trade union members in the British colonies of Australia. They later amalgamated to form the Australian Labor Party (ALP). In 1893, Members of Parliament in the Colony of Queensland briefly formed the world's first labour government.

The British Labour Party was created as the Labour Representation Committee, as a result of an 1899 resolution by the Trade Union Congress.

While archetypal labour parties are made of direct union representatives, in addition to members of geographical branches, some union federations or individual unions have chosen not to be represented within a labour party and/or have severed ties with them.

Labour festivals[edit]

Main article: Labour festival

Labour festivals have long been a part of the labour movement. Often held outdoors in the summer, the music, talks, food, drink and film have attracted hundreds of thousands attendees each year.

Labor and racial equality[edit]

A degree of strategic bi-racial cooperation existed among black and white dockworkers on the waterfronts of New Orleans, Louisiana during the turn of the 20th century. Although the groups maintained racially separate labor unions, they coordinated efforts to present a united front when making demands of their employers. These pledges included a commitment to the "50-50" or "half-and-half" system wherein a dock crew would consist of 50% black and 50% white workers and agreement on a single wage demand to reduce the risk of ship owners pitting one race against the other. Black and white dockworkers also stood together during protracted labor strikes, including general levee strikes in 1892 and 1907 as well as smaller strikes involving skilled workers such as screwmen in the early 1900s.[3][4]

Negroes in the United States read the history of labor and find it mirrors their own experience. We are confronted by powerful forces telling us to rely on the good will and understanding of those who profit by exploiting us [...] They are shocked that action organizations, sit-ins, civil disobedience and protests are becoming our everyday tools, just as strikes, demonstrations and union organization became yours to insure that bargaining power genuinely existed on both sides of the table [...] Our needs are identical to labor's needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures [...] That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.

Dr. Martin Luther King, "If the Negro Wins, Labor Wins", December 11, 1961[5]

Development of labour movements within nation states[edit]

Historically labour markets have often been constrained by national borders that have restricted movement of workers. Labour laws are also primarily determined by individual nations or states within those nations. While there have been some efforts to adopt a set of international labour standards through the International Labour Organization (ILO), international sanctions for failing to meet such standards are very limited. In many countries labour movements have developed independently and reflect those national boundaries.

Development of an international labour movement[edit]

With ever increasing levels of international trade and rising influence of multinational corporations, there has been debate and action within the labour movement broadly to attempt international co-operation. This has led to renewed efforts to organize and collectively bargain internationally. A number of international union organizations have been established in an attempt to facilitate international collective bargaining, to share information and resources and to advance the interests of workers generally.

List of national labour movements[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Selections from the Letters, Speeches, and State Papers of Abraham Lincoln, by Abraham Lincoln, edited by Ida Minerva Tarbell, Ginn, 1911 / 2008, pg 77
  2. ^ James, Paul; O’Brien, Robert (2007). Globalization and Economy, Vol. 4: Globalizing Labour. London: Sage Publications. 
  3. ^ See content, references and citations at New Orleans Dock Workers and Unionization
  4. ^ See content, references and citations at 1892 New Orleans general strike
  5. ^ A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr, edited by James Melvin Washington, HarperCollins, 1991, ISBN 0-06-064691-8, pg 202-203

Further reading[edit]

  • Robert N. Stern, Daniel B. Cornfield, The U.S. labor movement:References and Resources, G.K. Hall & Co 1996
  • John Hinshaw and Paul LeBlanc (ed.), U.S. labor in the twentieth century : studies in working-class struggles and insurgency, Amherst, NY : Humanity Books, 2000
  • James, Paul; O’Brien, Robert (2007). Globalization and Economy, Vol. 4: Globalizing Labour. London: Sage Publications. 
  • Philip Yale Nicholson, Labor's story in the United States, Philadelphia, Pa. : Temple Univ. Press 2004 (Series ‘Labor in Crisis’), ISBN 1-59213-239-1
  • Beverly Silver: Forces of Labor. Worker's Movements and Globalization since 1870, Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-521-52077-0
  • St. James Press Encyclopedia of Labor History Worldwide, St. James Press 2003 ISBN 1-55862-542-9
  • Lenny Flank (ed), IWW: A Documentary History, Red and Black Publishers, St Petersburg, Florida, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9791813-5-1
  • Tom Zaniello: Working Stiffs, Union Maids, Reds, and Riffraff: An Expanded Guide to Films about Labor (ILR Press books), Cornell University Press, revised and expanded edition 2003, ISBN 0-8014-4009-2
  • Neither Washington Nor Stowe: Common Sense For The Working Vermonter, The Green Mountain Anarchist Collective, Catamount Tavern Press, 2004.

External links[edit]