American Federation of Labor: Racism is Still in America

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Updated: Apr 13, 2022
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Labor Movement History is one of the biggest tools that can make any human being more wise. If one can learn from the past he is less likely to make those same mistakes his ancestors made. One of the mistakes Americas ancestors made was not providing fair wages and good working conditions for workers. It is imperative to me that my community learns about the labor movement. That is why for my community project I propose the idea of taking one class period, in a couple of different classes, so I can come and make the students aware of our past.

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The labor movement is a big part in American history and it deserves to be known by all Americans. The history of the labor movement is something that many people have gone through great lengths to accomplish and has a very extensive history. The history of the labor movement was greatly influenced by labor Unions.

The earliest traces of a labor revolt date back all the way to 1768. This is when the earliest strike occured and forced the workers form together to fight. It involved tailors and they were mad about their wage reduction. They decided to speak up for themselves and organize a strike. This is around the time that the first organized trade union was formed, that involved American workers. It occured in Philadelphia, the trade union that came into existence was the Federal Society of Journeyman. This formation of the the trade union started a trend throughout the whole country which rapidly grew. It showed people that they should not have to stand for cheap labor or abnormally long days at work. In the 1800’s some more influential labor unions started to form. The bigger labor unions started to bring together union workers within a city.

The industries within the capitalist society were against labor unions. They preferred labor reformers. Labor reformers tended to try and please the whole workplace instead of just focusing on the workers. Labor reformers such as the Knights of Labor. The national labor union is an example of a labor union. They preferred them because they did a lot less boycotting and striking. Both trade unions and labor reform were working towards the same thing, so there was not much adversity towards each other. Until one day the Knights decided to perform a strike against labor lines. The National Labor Union did not like this and ordered the Knights to stay within their labor reform ways. However the Knight did not listen and forced the National Labor Union to form the (afl) or American Federation of Labor. This forming of the (afl) rendered the Knights useless in the labor movement. It ended the Knights influence in the suffering workers lives. The (afl) assumed responsibility for all workers. The (afl) wanted to protect all workers including women and all races. However, the other labor unions found it sufficient to only unionize for skilled workers. The (afl) attempted to start interracial unions, however, the skilled workers would not do it. It was a depressing time in the American Labor movement and it showed what America represented at the core. It showed that America was still racist and sexist.

In 1902, according to, less than 3 percent of labor unions were black. This is quite appaling. It was also a time when big events started to happen in the labor movement. For example the Homestead strike. This took place at a carnegie steel mill. Carnegie’s right hand man, Frick, hired the pinkertons to fend off the striking workers. It ended with bloodshed and the strikers not getting what they wanted. However, they did gain some sympathy from the rest of the country. This is quite appaling. Labor Unions at first did not want to get involved in politics. They wanted to be separate entities. In the end however, labor unions realized they needed to have an influence in washington to protect their interests. Labor unions were involved in some major court cases that threatened their very presence. They began to get so involved in politics that they got the attention of president Herbert Hoover. Like most of the country, the great depression hurt Labor Unions. Mostly due to the fact that so many people were out of work so a smaller amount of people were paying into labor unions. Mass production workers were unhappy. John L. Lewis was one of these worker. He and his followers decided to separate from there of union and make a new unions called the (cio). It was established in 1938. Around this time Labor Unions started to affiliate themselves with the democratic party. This meant that roughly 12 million union workers voted for the democratic candidates (

Labor unions became so leftist that when a certain group within the organization voted for the populist candidate, Henry Wallace, they kicked them out of the unions. They were very loyal to the Democratic party. According to, the (cio) and (afl), “advanced the economic and job interest of the union membership” throughout their existence. A big part of what helped the labor unions be as successful as they were, was collective bargaining. However around the 1960, only about one third of the of workers were represented by a union according to In the 1960’s, whites were still the primary members of unions. Unions were very segregated. They got boosts of influence when John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson used labor unions to help achieve their goals. During the 1970’s however unions began to weaken. This was due to a new market in which unions were not as effective. Unions could not help as much when imports began to be cheaper and that the government started to get rid of regulation in many jobs. It also weakened them further when Ronald Reagan became president due to the fact that he was very anti-union. According to, between 1975-1985 unions lost roughly five million members. Unions pretty much got eliminated from the private sector and were forced to solely dwell in the public sector.

Today, unions are more diversified but have lost their grip on influencing pay across the country. As a result much of the country has a declining in living standards. The new age brings with it pluses but it also has negatives. This being that a lot of jobs are being replaced by robots. Like for example: in Phoenix Arizona, Mcdonald’s is planning to build the first robotic mcdonalds. If this model works it could eliminate thousands of jobs across the country. Robots are not just affecting unskilled jobs. They are also affecting skilled jobs like doctors. Some doctors are being replaced by robots due to the fact that they are more precise and efficient. The Labor movement is something that has been part of America since the beginning. We have to make sure we remember our roots. The root cause of why the Labor movement came into existence is capitalism. To explain what I mean one needs to know the definition of capitalism. Merriam-Webster defines it as: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.

In a capitalistic society there are incentives to be rich and consumers are free to choose whichever product they want and the companies will cater to that. It also tends to stop large government. This is all fine and dandy however, the incentives to be rich can sometimes make human nature very greedy. This greediness leeds certain persons to be in the possession of a lot of money and wanting to make more. This is why the Labor Movement started. Certain people in charge got too greedy and wanted to increase their margins to put more money in the bank. They would do this at the cost of many people suffering. Labor unions started as a response to this greediness. They put the people in charge in check. Made the government intervene to make sure that the workers get fair compensation. Greediness is horrible thing that needs to be kept in check. Learning about about our past as a country is something we need to do so we do not make the same mistakes. This goes along with the labor movement. We need to learn and bring awareness to the labor movement.

The community project I would want to do is on campus. I would ask teachers if could maybe have a class period so I could talk about the labor movement. It would consist of telling the students how horrible our ancestors had it and how good we have it. That we cannot allow America to get back to the way it was before. It would solve the issue by outreaching to students and making them aware of what happened in the past. I can also make them aware of the need to start the labor movement in other countries. In china, according to forbes, the average Chinese citizen makes roughly $10,000 which is nothing. Chinese workers are working for very minimal pay in not good working conditions. America as a nation has fixed it for the most part but the rest of the world is not like America. By doing my community project, teaching a class for one period, I would not only teach awareness of our past but also that unfair wages that are still a thing in different countries. The challenges I would face during my community project is obviously I have not experienced unfair wages or bad working conditions. I would have no personal testimony to share which is always powerful to use when getting a point across. Lastly I do get a little nervous in front of people so this is an obstacle but nothing I could not overcome.

The labor movement is a major part in the past of our country and it is something that I would like to address. I love history overall so I really enjoyed this class. When I was deciding what to do my project on it did not take me that long to figure out what I wanted to do. I found the labor movement very fascinating. How Americans struggled and overcame, I think is proof to how good our country is. My attitude towards the movement has definitely changed. At first I did not give it a second thought because I did not really understand what it was when I heard it. However when we started talking about the strikes, like the homestead strike, it really brought to my attention how influential this movement was. I guess sometimes the assumptions I get is, when we talk about history I assume it’s better today. While in fact that is not the case. This was dispelled to me in that the labor movement might have slowed down but America does not have necessarily fair wages. This class however has not just opened my eyes to the labor movement. It has also opened my eyes to the racism that is still in this country.

The book the New Jim Crow was a big part of opening my eyes. I did not realize how much racism was within our own justice system. How police officers do not get profiling training yet still profile certain races. Or how way more African Americans are incrimated for drug related crimes rather than whites. Even though, according to the New Jim Crow, approximately two-thirds of all drug dealers are white. I watched a clip recently that showed to me racism is still in America. This speaker was talking in front of everyone and she said: “If you would not mind changing into an African American please stand up.” Not one white person in the crowd stood up. This clearly showed that people know there is racism out there. This class taught me alot about history but learning about how racism is still in America might be the biggest thing I took away from the class. Overall, I really enjoyed this class and would take it again if I could!!! History is something everyone should learn so we do not make the same mistakes in the future. The labor movement was a very influential time in America. It was mainly accomplished through the unions. They organized strikes and found a way to bring fair wages to workers. They have lost much of their power today but will forever be a big part in U.S. history. I learned a lot in the history class I attended this fall. I really enjoyed it and hope I will be able to take a history class again later in life.

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American Federation of Labor: Racism Is Still in America. (2022, Apr 13). Retrieved from