History of U.S. labor unions

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The history of labor unions in the United States begins before the Civil War, but mostly comprised the last 120 years when the AFL (now AFL-CIO) and the railroad brotherhoods built strong permanent unions.

The first local unions in the United States formed in the late 18th century, but the movement came into its own after the Civil War, when the short-lived "National Labor Union" (NLU) became the first federation of U.S. unions, followed by the slightly longer-lived Knights of Labor (a broadly-based federation that collapsed in the late 1880s in the wake of the Haymarket Riot), then by the American Federation of Labor (AFL), founded in 1886 by Samuel Gompers as a national federation of skilled workers' unions. Union growth was greatest in the 1900-1920 period, thanks to support from the national government and working arrangements with business.

In contrast to the craft unionism of the AFL, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or "the Wobblies"), founded in 1905, used violence to promote the cause of unskilled workers. The IWW's opposition to the nation's wartime commitment led to their suppression in World War I, and the IWW virtually disappeared.

In the 1930s the strategy of industrial unionism was pushed by John L. Lewis' Committee for Industrial Organizations within the AFL. Founded in 1933, the committee split from the AFL in 1938 as the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The Second Red Scare after World War II pushed the AFL and CIO into a 1955 merger as the AFL-CIO under Lewis' leadership. A long decline in membership as a proportion of eligible workers set in, counterbalanced in part by a growth of unions in the public sector (including hospital workers, police, corrections guards, firemen, municipal workers and postal employees.)

In the 21st century American union membership in the private sector has in recent years fallen under 8%--levels not seen since 1932. Workers seem uninterested in joining, and strike activity has almost faded away. The labor force in unionized automobile and steel plants, for example, has fallen dramatically. Construction trades in cities have suddenly shifted from over 75% unionized to under 25%. Only the commercial sector of construction has retained 50% or greater union representation. The inability to prevent non-union companies from taking significant market share has undercut union membership. Meanwhile the forces of economic liberalization (neoliberalism), capital mobility, and globalization have affected measurably the material standard of living enjoyed by workers in the United States; and mass immigration from Mexico has continued to restructure the domestic labor force.[1]

Since the 1940s unions have admitted Blacks, Hispanics and women.

Early Unions

During the first half of the 19th century wage scales in the United States for both skilled and unskilled labor were generally from one-third to one-half higher than those for similar workers in western Europe. The unskilled factory worker received from 90 cents to $1.00 a day, which was approximately half the amount received by a skilled worker.[2] The high wages attracted a steady flow of skilled workers from Britain, Germany and elsewhere; that is, human capital was trained in Europe but moved to America. These Europeans brought along forms and ideologies of British and German labor unions.

Knights of St. Crispin

The Knights of St. Crispin was founded in 1867 and claimed 50,000 members by 1870, by far the largest union in the country. But it was poorly organized and soon declined. They fought encroachments of machinery and unskilled labor on autonomy of skilled shoeworkers. One provision in the Crispin constitution explicitly sought to limit the entry of "green hands" into the trade. But that failed because the new machines could be operated by semi-skilled workers and produce more shoes than hand sewing. The first local unions in the United States formed in the late 18th century, but the movement came into its own after the Civil War, when the short-lived National Labor Union (NLU) became the first federation of American unions.

Knights of Labor

The first effective labor organization that was more than regional in membership and influence was the Knights of Labor, organized in 1869. The Knights believed in the unity of the interests of all producing groups and sought to enlist in their ranks not only all laborers but everyone who could be truly classified as a producer. The acceptance of all producers led to explosive growth after 1880. Under the leadership of Terence Powderly they championed a variety of causes, sometimes through political or cooperative ventures. Powderly hoped to achieve their ends through politics and education rather than through economic coercion. Their big strikes failed and they collapsed in the wake of the Haymarket Riot of 1886, when their message was confused with that of bomb-making anarchists.

Violence, 1886-1894

See Haymarket Riot and Pullman Strike.

Krause (1992) argues the "Battle for Homestead" in Pittsburgh in 1892 represented a struggle between two competing, contradictory, and irreconcilable versions of American Republicanism. One was Andrew Carnegie's belief in the inalienable right to private property and the right to accumulate capital and manage enterprise. Individual entrepreneurship was the republican way to wealth for the individual and for society as a whole. In opposition was the version personified by labour reformer Thomas 'Beeswax' Taylor, which saw in the ideology of republicanism the guarantee of the workers' right to dignity and security as a group. The strikers' republicanism viewed labor as the inalienable property of the individual worker, rejected the "law" of supply and demand and sought the group action by unions to assert the rights. They were not socialists and did not want government ownership, but they did want to control the work patterns on the factory floor regardless of the owner and his foremen. The unions were still thinking in terms of iron, when their expertise was decisive. In the age of steel the white collar engineer made the critical decisions, not blue collar workers. The union defeat in 1892 did not simply mark the end of the steelworkers' union's power, it more importantly destroyed the hopes of realizing the aims of radical republicanism. After 1900 Samuel Gompers and the AFL unions worked inside the owners' model of republicanism and sought higher wages, while the rejected republicanism vision was incorporated into the Socialism of Eugene Debs, who argued the workers should have full control by nationalizing industry and having a labor party run the government.[3]

Rise of AFL

The American Federation of Labor (AFL), founded in 1886 by Samuel Gompers was a national federation of skilled workers' unions that set the organizational model that has lasted to the 21st century. The AFL affiliates made steady progress. Total membership rose from 200,000 in 1886 to 1,750,000 in 1904. Gompers, as president, vigorously acted as organizer, conciliator, and peace-maker within labor's ranks. Jurisdictional conflicts between member unions were resolved, and in the 1890s the electrical workers, teamsters, musicians, and building laborers were formed into national unions. With rapid industrialization utilizing unskilled immigrant labor, the AFL ignored most factories and concentrated its attention on the skilled crafts. The United Mine Workers (UMW) formed in 1890 from AFL and Knights locals. It was organized along industrial lines, and it succeeded in winning over Slavic and Italian miners in the bituminous fields after a successful strike in 1897.

Labor History 1900-1932

the Mine Workers union gained after strikes in 1900 and 1902.

Coal Strikes 1900-1902

see Coal Strike of 1902 The United Mine Workers was successful in its strike against soft coal (bituminous) mines in the Midwest in 1900, but its strike against the hard coal (anthracite) mines of Pennsylvania turned into a national political crisis in 1902. President Theodore Roosevelt brokered a compromise solution that kept the flow of coal going, and higher wages and shorter hours, but did not include recognition of the union as a bargaining agent.

Debs, Socialists, IWW and Dual Unionism

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), whose members became known as "Wobblies", was founded in 1905 by a group of about 30 labor radicals. Among their most prominent leaders was William “Big Bill” Haywood. The IWW organized along the lines of industrial unionism rather than craft unionism; in fact, they went even further, pursuing the goal of "One Big Union" and the abolition of the wage system. Many, though probably not all, Wobblies favored anarcho-syndicalism. Most of the IWW’s organizing took place in the West, and most of its members were miners, lumbermen and cannery and dock workers. Dedicated to workplace democracy, it allowed both men and women as members and also crossed racial lines. At its peak it had 150,000 members, but it was fiercely repressed during, and especially after, World War I with many of its members killed, about 10,000 organisers imprisoned, and thousands more deported as foreign agitators. The IWW proved that unskilled workers could be organized and gave unskilled workers a sense of dignity and self-worth. The IWW survives today with about 2,000 members, but its significant impact was primarily in its first 15 years of existence.

Socialist Party

The Socialist Party of America was a coalition of local parties based in industrial cities, and usually was rooted in ethnic communities, especially German and Finnish. By 1912 they claimed more than a thousand locally elected officials in 33 states and 160 cities, especially the Midwest. Eugene Debs ran for president in 1900, 1904 and 1908 primarily to encourage the local effort, and he did so again in 1912. The party was factionalized. The conservatives, led by Victor Berger of Milwaukee who promoted progressive causes of efficiency and an end to corruption. The radicals wanted to overthrow capitalism, tried to infiltrate labor unions, and sought to cooperate with the IWW. With few exceptions the party had weak or nonexistent links to local labor unions. Immigration was an issue--the radicals saw immigrants as fodder for the war with capitalism, while conservatives complained they lowered wage rates and absorbed too many city resources. Many of these issues were heatedly debated at the First National Congress of the Socialist Party in 1910, and the national convention in Indianapolis in 1912. At the latter the radicals won an early test by seating Bill Haywood on the Executive Committee, by sending encouragement to western "Wobblies," and by a resolution seeming to favor industrial unionism. The conservatives counterattacked by amending the party constitution to expel any socialists who favored industrial sabotage or syndicalism (that is, the IWW), and who refused to participate in American elections. They adopted a conservative platform calling for cooperative organization of prisons, a national bureau of health, abolition of the Senate and the presidential veto, and a long list of progressive reforms that the Democratic party was known for. Debs did not attend--he saw his mission as keeping the disparate units together in the hope that someday a common goal would be found. There was little money--his campaign cost only $66,000, mostly for 3.5 million leaflets and travel to rallies organized by local groups. Debs criss-crossed the country, His biggest event was a speech to 15,000 in New York City. The crowd sang the "Marseillaise," and "International" as Emil Seidel, the vice-presidential candidate, boasted, "Only a year ago workingmen were throwing decayed vegetables and rotten eggs at us but now all is changed....Eggs are too high. There is a great giant growing up in this country that will someday take over the affairs of this nation. He is a little giant now but he is growing fast. The name of this little giant is socialism." Debs said that only the socialists represented labor; he condemned "Injunction Bill Taft"; ridiculed Roosevelt as "a charlatan, mountebank, and fraud, and his Progressive promises and pledges as the mouthings of a low and utterly unprincipled self seeker and demagogue." Debs insisted that the Democrats, Progressives and Republicans alike were financed by the trusts. Party newspapers spread the word--there were five English-language and eight foreign language dailies along with 262 English and 36 foreign language weeklies. Debs won 900,000 votes, about 6% of the total cast. The great majority of labor union members voted, as always, for one of the major parties.

Government and Labor

See National Civic Federation Injunction Norris-LaGuardia Act

In 1908, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the "Danbury Hatters’ Case". In 1902, the hatters’ union instituted a nationwide boycott of the hats made by a nonunion company in Connecticut. The owner Dietrich Loewe brought suit against the union for unlawful combinations to restrain trade in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Court ruled the union was subject to an injunction and liable for the payment of triple damages. In 1915, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, speaking for the Court, again decided in favor of Loewe upholding a lower federal court ruling ordering the union to pay him damages of $252,130. (The cost of lawyers had already exceeded $100,000, paid by the AFL). This was not a typical case where a few union leaders were punished with short terms in jail, but that the life savings of several hundreds of the members were attached. It was a major precedent for lower court ruling and a grievance for the unions. The Clayton Act of 1914 presumably exempted unions from the antitrust prohibition and established for the first time the Congressional principle that, "the labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce." However, judicial interpretation so weakened it that prosecutions of labor under the antitrust acts continued until the enactment of the Norris-LaGuardia Act in 1932.

See: Loewe v. Lawlor, 208 U.S. 274 (1908), 235 U.S. 522 (1915)

State legislation 1912-1918: 36 states adopted the principle of workmen's compensation for all industrial accidents. Also: prohibition of the use of an industrial poison, several states require one day's rest in seven, the beginning of effective prohibition of night work, of maximum limits upon the length of the working day, and of minimum wage laws for women.

AFL and Gompers

The AFL was founded in 1886 by Samuel Gompers as a successor to the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU, 1881–1886); like the NLU the AFL was a federation of unions. The AFL was a union of skilled workers only (expect for the unskilled coal miners.) There was no role for unskilled workers, women or African Americans. From 1890 to 1917 the unionized wages rose steadily and the average work week fell. Gompers hired organizers like John L. Lewis to talk up unions and start new locals, while negotiating among affiliated unionsto head off jurisdictional disputes. Most of the strikes sponsored by AFL unions were to gain jurisdiction and bargaining rights from employers, rather than raise wages or install safety equipment.[4]

Railroad Brotherhoods

One of the earliest Railroad Strikes was also one of the most successful. In 1885, the Knights of Labor led railroad workers to victory against Jay Gould and his entire Southwestern Railway system. The Great Railroad Strike of 1922, a nationwide railroad shop workers strike began on July 1. The immediate cause of the strike was the Railroad Labor Board's announcement that hourly wages would be cut by seven cents on July 1, which prompted a shop workers vote on whether or not to strike. The operators' union did not join in the strike, and the railroads employed strikebreakers to fill three-fourths of the roughly 400,000 vacated positions, increasing hostilities between the railroads and the striking workers. On September 1 a federal judge issued a sweeping injunction against striking, assembling, picketing, etc. colloquially known as the "Daugherty Injunction."

Unions bitterly resented the injunction; a few sympathy strikes shut down some railroads completely. The strike eventually died out as many shopmen made deals with the railroads on the local level. The often unpalatable concessions — coupled with memories of the violence and tension during the strike — soured relations between the railroads and the shopmen for years.

World War I

During World War I the number of organized workers increased from 2.75 million in 1917 to 4.25 million in 1919. The Wilson administration strongly encouraged union growth as a way to energize the working class behind the war effort. Since the AFL enthusiastically supported the war effort, officers of the federation were appointed to most of the war boards organized by the government. Gompers was appointed to the Council of National Defense and the Advisory Committee on National Defense. The Mediation Commission and the War Labor Board were created in 1917 and 1918, respectively, to settle disputes and maintain continuous production. The War Labor Board, cochaired by labort lawyer Frank Walsh and former president William Howard Taft worked to reduce strikes. The new Railroad Wage Commission and adjustment boards ensured labor peace after the federal government took over operation of all the railroads. Through these means strikes were kept to a minimum and the trade unions grew in importance and size.

In recognition of labor's role in winning the war, an international conference in Washington in 1919 set up under the auspices of the League of Nations the International Labor Organization.

The standard workday declined on average to the desired eight-hour norm during the war and money wages rose appreciably. However inflation was a factor so real hourly wages declined from 1913 levels by 1919. By 1920, however, real wages had risen some 12% above the 1913 levels. Overtime and full employment of all family members made weekly take-home pay very high during the war for blue collar families. (White collar families did not keep pace.)


see Great Railroad Strike of 1922

Restricting Immigration

See Immigration Act of 1924

National Origins Formula

Labor History 1932-1955

New Deal Labor Policy

see NRA National Labor Relations Act, 1935 Frances Perkins

John L. Lewis and CIO

John Llewellyn Lewis (1880-1969) was the autocratic president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMW) from 1920 to 1960, and the driving force behind the founding of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Using UMW organizers the new CIO established the United Steel Workers of America (USWA) and organized millions of other industrial workers in the 1930s. A powerful speaker and strategist, Lewis did not hesitate to shut down coal production—the nation's main energy and heating source—to get his demands.

Lewis threw his support behind FDR at the outset of the New Deal. After the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935 Lewis traded on the tremendous appeal that Roosevelt had with workers in those days, sending organizers into the coal fields to tell workers that "The President wants you to join the Union." His UMW was one of FDR's main financial supporters in 1936, contributing over $500,000.

Lewis expanded his base by organizing the so-called "captive mines," those held by the steel producers such as U.S. Steel. That required in turn organizing the steel industry, which had defeated union organizing drives in 1892 and 1919 and which had resisted all organizing efforts since then fiercely. The task of organizing steelworkers, on the other hand, put Lewis at odds with the AFL, which looked down on both industrial workers and the industrial unions that represented all workers in a particular industry, rather than just those in a particular skilled trade or craft.

This dispute came to a head at the AFL’s convention in 1935. Lewis called together leaders of seven other unions within the AFL to form a group known as the Committee for Industrial Organizing to push the AFL to change its policy opposing industrial organizing. William Green, now President of the AFL, treated this group as an enemy within the AFL. Antagonism escalated until the CIO, now calling itself the Congress of Industrial Organizations, formally established itself as a rival union federation in 1938, with Lewis as its first president. Lewis, in fact, was the CIO: his UMWA provided the great bulk of the financial resources that the CIO poured into organizing drives by the United Automobile Workers (UAW), the USWA, the Textile Workers Union and other newly formed or struggling unions. Lewis hired back many of the people he had exiled from the UMWA in the 1920s to lead the CIO and placed his protégé Philip Murray at the head of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee. Lewis played the leading role in the negotiations that led to the successful conclusion of the Flint sit-down strike conducted by the UAW in 1936-1937 and in the Chrysler sit-down strike that followed.

The CIO's actual membership (as opposed to publicity figures) was 2,850,000 for February 1942. This included 537,000 members of the UAW, just under 500,000 Steel Workers, almost 300,000 members of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, about 180,000 Electrical Workers, and about 100,000 Rubber Workers. The CIO also included 550,000 members of the United Mine Workers, which did not formally withdraw from the CIO until later in the year. The remaining membership of 700,000 was scattered among thirty-odd smaller unions. (Galenson, p. 585)

Upsurge in World War II

Both the AFL and CIO supported Roosevelt in 1940, with 75% of more of their votes, millions of dollars, and tens of thousands of precinct workers. However, John L. Lewis opposed Roosevelt on foreign policy grounds. (Communists in the US supported the Soviet Union in its non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, and denounced Roosevelt's efforts to help Britain.) He took the UMWA out of the CIO and rejoined the AFL. All labor unions strongly supported the war effort after June 1941 (when Germany invaded the Soviet Union). Left-wing activists crushed wildcat strikes. Nonetheless, Lewis realized that he had enormous leverage. In 1943, the middle of the war, when the rest of labor was observing a policy against strikes, Lewis led the UMWA out on a twelve-day strike for higher wages; the depth of public dismay—even hatred—of Lewis was palpable. In November 1943 the Fortune poll asked, "Are there any prominent individuals in this country who you feel might be harmful to the future of the country unless they are curbed?" 36% spontaneously named Lewis. (Next came 3% who named Roosevelt.) [Cantril and Strunk 561] As a result the Conservative coalition in Congress was able to pass anti-union legislation, leading to the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947.

Walter Reuther and UAW

The Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936-37 was the decisive event in the formation of the United Auto Workers Union (UAW). During the war Walter Reuther took control of the UAW, and soon led major strikes in 1946. He ousted the Communists from the positions of power, especially at the Ford local. He was one of the most articulate and energetic leaders of the CIO, and of the merged AFL-CIO. Using brilliant negotiating tactics he achieved high pay and high benefits for his members, and high profits for the Big Three automakers. The formula was fatal when the Germans and Japanese started exporting cars in the 1970s, and led to a series of crises and shrinkage of the union.

PAC and New Deal Coalition

Political action committees; Labor and Democratic party. to be written

Taft-Hartley Act

Further information: Taft-Hartley Act

The Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 revised the Wagner Act to include restrictions on unions as well as management. It was a response to public demands for action after the wartime coal strikes and the postwar strikes in steel, autos and other industries were perceived to have damaged the economy, not to mention a threatened 1946 rail strike that would have shut down the national economy. It was bitterly fought by unions, vetoed by President Harry S. Truman, and passed over his veto. Repeated union efforts to repeal or modify it always failed.

The Act, officially known as the Labor-Management Relations Act, was sponsored by Senator Robert Taft and Representative Fred Hartley. President Truman described the act as a "slave-labor bill" in his veto, but he did use it. Congress overrode the veto on June 23, 1947, establishing the act as a law.

The Taft-Hartley Act amended the Wagner Act, officially known as the National Labor Relations Act, of 1935. The amendments added to the NLRA a list of prohibited actions, or "unfair labor practices", on the part of unions. The NLRA had previously prohibited only unfair labor practices committed by employers. It prohibited jurisdictional strikes, in which a union strikes in order to pressure an employer to assign particular work to the employees that union represents, and secondary boycotts and "common situs" picketing, in which unions picket, strike, or refuse to handle the goods of a business with which they have no primary dispute but which is associated with a targeted business. A later statute, the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, passed in 1959, tightened these restrictions on secondary boycotts still further.

The Act outlawed closed shops, which were contractual agreements that required an employer to hire only union members. Union shops, in which new recruits must join the union within a certain amount of time, are permitted, but only as part of a collective bargaining agreement and only if the contract allows the worker at least thirty days after the date of hire or the effective date of the contract to join the union. The National Labor Relations Board and the courts have added other restrictions on the power of unions to enforce union security clauses and have required them to make extensive financial disclosures to all members as part of their duty of fair representation. On the other hand, a few years after the passage of the Act Congress repealed the provisions requiring a vote by workers to authorize a union shop, when it became apparent that workers were approving them in virtually every case.

The amendments also authorized individual states to outlaw union security clauses entirely in their jurisdictions by passing "right-to-work" laws. Currently all of the states in the Deep South and a number of traditionally Republican states in the Midwest, Plains and Rocky Mountains regions have right-to-work laws.

The amendments required unions and employers to give sixty days' notice before they may undertake strikes or other forms of economic action in pursuit of a new collective bargaining agreement; it did not, on the other hand, impose any "cooling-off period" after a contract expired. Although the Act also authorized the President to intervene in strikes or potential strikes that create a national emergency, a reaction to the national coal miners' strikes called by the United Mine Workers of America in the 1940s, the President has used that power less and less frequently in each succeeding decade.

Labor History 1955-2007

AFL and CIO reunite, 1955; Change to Win breaks away, 2005

Teamsters and issue of Corruption

Civil Rights Movement

Civil Rights Movement

Rise of Public Sector Unions

Reagan and Corporate Attacks on Unions

Decline of Private Sector Unions

As the unions steadily lost active workers in the private sector, their retired members loomed larger. Issues of pensions and health care became more important after 1990, and the unions geared their political activism accordingly.

Election 2008

see also 2008 United States presidential election

The AFL-CIO, the biggest federation of U.S. unions, in August 2007 freed its 55 member unions to make their own recommendations in the presidential race.

In September 2007 Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards won the endorsement of the carpenters' union, giving him the support of unions representing more than 1.8 million members and retirees, more than any other candidate. Edwards picked up the backing of the United Steelworkers, which calls itself the largest U.S. private-sector industrial union with 1.2 million members and retirees, and the United Mine Workers of America, which represents 105,000 active and retired coal miners. the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, with about 720,000 active and retired members, made its first-ever dual endorsement when it backed Democrat Hillary Clinton Republican Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor. Clinton also won the backing of the United Transportation Union, with 125,000 active and retired members. Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, another Democratic hopeful, won the endorsement of the 280,000-member International Association of Fire Fighters, a public-sector union, but Dodd dropped out of the presidential race after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses in Jan. 2008.

Unions in recent years have increased their activism in the election cycle, especially in terms of funding and get-out-the-vote campaigns.

In 2004 and 2006, unions spent a combined $561 million to help elect their preferred candidates (most of them Democrats). That is nearly a 50% increase over the $381 million spent on the previous two campaigns. However they are still outspent by business; in 2000, companies were responsible for three times as much spending as unions. By the 2006 election, companies and their employees spent $491 million on elections, compared with $264 million for labor unions. Labor spent $32 million on its own mailings and television and radio commercials for the 2004 and 2006 elections, a nearly fivefold jump over the previous four years. Polls show 74% of voters who belong to an AFL-CIO-affiliated union voted for the congressional candidate endorsed by their union in 2006, up from 70% in 2004 and 68% in 2002.[5]

NAFTA and threat of International Trade


  1. Melvyn Dubofsky and Foster Rhea Dulles, Labor in America: A History. 7th edition (2004) ISBN 0-88295-998-0
  2. Farm workers in the North received up to $15.00 a month with board and from 50 cents to $1.50 a day without board.
  3. Paul Krause, The Battle for Homestead, 1880-1892: Politics, Culture, and Steel. U. of Pittsburgh Pr., 1992. 548 pp. excerpt and text search
  4. Robert H. Zieger and Gilbert J. Gall, American Workers, American Unions: The Twentieth Century(3rd ed. 2002) p 20
  5. Brody Mullins, "Labor Makes Big Comeback In '08 Races; Ramping Up Spending, Unions Get Voters to Polls; The Battle in Nevada; Wall Street Journal Jan. 18, 2008

Further reading

For a much more detailed annotated guide, see the Bibliography

  • Arnesen, Eric, ed. Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-Class History (2006), 2064pp; 650 articles by experts excerpt and text search
  • Beard, Mary Ritter. A Short History of the American Labor Movement 1920 - 176 pages online edition
  • Beik, Millie, ed. Labor Relations: Major Issues in American History (2005) over 100 annotated primary documents excerpt and text search
  • Boris, Eileen, Nelson Lichtenstein, and Thomas Paterson. Major Problems In The History Of American Workers: Documents and Essays )2002)
  • Dubofsky, Melvyn, and Foster Rhea Dulles. Labor in America: A History (7th edition (2004) ISBN 0-88295-998-0, a textbook
  • Dubofsky, Melvyn, and Warren Van Tine, eds. Labor Leaders in America (1987) biographies of key leaders, written by scholars excerpt and text search
  • LeBlanc, Paul. A Short History of the U.S. Working Class: From Colonial Times to the Twenty-First Century (1999), 160pp excerpt and text search
  • Lichtenstein, Nelson. State of the Union: A Century of American Labor (2003) excerpt and text search
  • Taylor, Paul F. The ABC-CLIO Companion to the American Labor Movement (1993) 237pp; short encyclopedia
  • Zieger, Robert H., and Gilbert J. Gall, American Workers, American Unions: The Twentieth Century(3rd ed. 2002) excerpt and text search