How did the rise of labor unions shape relations among workers, big business, and government?

1 Answer
Sep 18, 2016

It gave workers a voice in how a company was run. It also put a spotlight on child labor and forced the federal government into making laws regarding who could work in factories, and other places.


Until 1912 labor unions were weak and most only considered skilled laborers for their membership. They also, for the most part, did not allow women to become members. In the late 19th and early 20th century the three main unions were the Knights of Labor, the American Federation of Labor, and the Industrial Workers of the World.

The Knights were particularly weak and were losing membership to the new AFL. And so they do not figure into how unions changed the workplace.

Until 1912, 75% or more of all strikes were unsuccessful. Non-union strikers were easily forced back to work fearing the lack of pay would force their family to go hungry. But also, it was common practice for mill owners, a few days into a strike, to bring in replacement workers, particularly where unskilled labor was concerned.

In 1912 in Lawrence Massachusetts a textile workers' strike lasted for 62 days. This time, however, the IWW was the prime union involved in the conduct of the strike and saw to it that strikers' families did not unnecessarily suffer from hunger, lack of heat, and clothing.

But this strike also differed that the entire work force of 14 Lawrence mills went out on strike, either because they walked out or because the lack of skill labor made for no work for skilled laborers. This was the first time the idea of striking an entire company was used and its success changed the way unions ran strikes in the future.

Pres. Taft also set up a U.S. House inquiry into the state of the workers and in particular, the state of children employed in the mills. The strike had already attracted national attention and a lot of sympathy for the strikers. The involvement of the federal government put not just the textile industry on notice, but all other industries as well. By 1914 the first child labor laws were passed by the federal government.