Labor Unions and the Dynamics of Race in Unions Labor unions have been in America for a very long time. There are many unions in a myriad of different fields. Labor unions were and are used to allow for equal treatment of workers. Employers always want to maximize their profits and they try to give the least to get the most in return.
For reasons such as this is why unions were formed. Generally a union boss is appointed or hired to protect the rights and privileges of the employees. The union boss is generally very representative of the demographics of the workers. The leader of the employees needs to know what they want and what is fair for them and this is why he tends to represent one type of work force, such as the teachers union. This type of representation is made easier when most of the workers come from the same background. Background meaning family size, education, race, etc.
Labor unions have helped shape the American work force, as have the backgrounds of the men and women who have worked in them. America was founded on diversity and the freedom to choose. Many different backgrounds have found their way into America and labor unions. As stated earlier, labor unions have people of the same background in them. America's first settlers were generally of the same background and because of that, so were the members of the first labor unions.
As the United States expanded so did the work force and the diversity in it. Diversity and understanding the challenges and benefits is what enables America to be great. In the pages of this paper we are going to look at the change in the make-up of labor unions by the entrance of African-Americans and how they have influenced America and the labor unions for the better. This paper is and expansions on my paper "A Shield Against the Power of Industrial Capitalism". In my paper I examined an article by Alexander Saxton. In his writing he discussed the formation of unions in the Alabama coalfields.
The make up of the coal unions were very similar to the make-up of America and unions today. This was very peculiar to have such a conglomeration of workers because of the racial sentiment amongst the races of that day. The workers in the coalfields had the same background generally, except for their racial roots. These miners were brought together as the title of the article states, to protect them from the power of industrial capitalism.
These men did not want to interact with one another except through the confines of work. Saxton stated that they lived in tent cities and that the blacks lived in one section of the city and the whites lived in another. This type of behavior confirms their disdain one for another, but the fact they formed unions together showed their need for one another as well. This dependency one for another was shown in their unity of union even in defeat to the owners of the coalfields. These men would continue to form unions and remain a union even though they would lose and the owners saw them very weak. It is interesting to see the acts of these men and it invokes an underlying question of would they have been better off forming their own separate unions amongst themselves?
The answer is probably no because they showed solidarity by staying together through thick and thin. They also displayed that race shouldn't play a deciding factor in how labor unions are formed. The constitution states that all men are created equally with unalienable rights. The miners of the Alabama coal fields showed that men should be paid according to labor performed and not by the color of their skin. This was a valuable lesson and is a good model of forming a union and how blacks could be included in the work force.
The work force around the world has changed, as have the means of production. America is a prime example of these changes internationally. America started with the initial settlers and then indentured servants were factored into the work force. After the indentured servants cam the slaves and then they were freed and became part of all the workers.
At all levels of change some one was excluded from society or the privileges or benefits of the work field. When unions were originally formed they include only Caucasian males. This was due to the fact blacks were not free and when they were eventually given their freedom they were not considered as equals to every one else. In the same Journal of Labor History that Saxton published his article Jacqueline Jones talked about the effectiveness of just white or black labor unions. She stated that oddly enough that they were not as effective in the long run as were the biracial labor unions. Ms. Jones stated that the solidarity amongst all-white labor unions wavered due to the heterogeneity.
On the other hand the all-black unions faltered because of the clash between the black union workers and the black middle class. It is interesting to see the clashes or the things that lessened the power of the all-white of black unions. It is even more intriguing to see that interracial labor unions were able to form even during periods that the Jim Crow laws were in place. The Jim Crow laws were laws that discriminated against blacks. Laws such as not having the right to vote and having to sit on the back of the bus were the types of Jim Crow laws. America and labor unions were much better off for having diversity.
Diversity is a good thing and can have good or bad responses depending on how it is managed. Diversity is very prevalent today in America and our work force. This is probably because of the way we were able to handle it during the years. As mentioned earlier Jim Crow laws segregated blacks from whites and this was also the case in labor unions until the 1920's.
There was a lack of communication or understanding amongst the people. Interracial labor unions were formed out of necessity not desire. When people are faced with injustice they tend to search for justification or revenge and they do not care who helps them obtain that. As was the case in the Alabama coalfields where they were facing unfair labor practices the first interracial labor unions faced the same dilemma. Today interracial unions are not formed today out of necessity, but out convenience because of the strides we made. Some may disagree and say that we have not made many strides, but I disagree.
There is a learning curve in all things and eventually all things will work out if we give them time to pan out. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that black and white would coexist and to a major extent they due and the continuance of interracial unions displays that. One field of work that has taken some gigantic steps in interracial labor unions is professional sports. Professional sports only lets the elite come and competes in their arenas and fields. In the early years they only let elite athletes that were white compete.
The first professional athlete allowed to compete amidst the elite ranks was Jackie Robinson. He was a standout athlete in college at football, baseball, and basketball. Professional baseball has been around since the late 1800's and it was not until 1945 that Jackie Robinson was permitted to play. When he arrived in the major leagues he was not greeted very warmly. As with the coalfields of Alabama where the workers worked together, but did not interact with one another away from work, was the case with Mr. Robinson.
Jackie Robinson entered baseball during a very volatile and racially tense period in American history. There was much segregation still prevalent in schools and other organizations around the country. Even though it seemed difficult to allow a man of color into their ranks of professional athletics, it strengthened their unions and bargaining power. Unions were and are formed to give power to the workers in their negotiations with management.
By allowing Jackie Robinson and other blacks and minorities into professional sports they were able to increase their level of play giving them much more power and solidarity in negotiation. Change is never an easy task, but it is good and it stimulates growth. Today the salaries in professional sports are extremely due in part to the inclusion of blacks and minorities into the labor unions of major league sports. It is tough to imagine what salaries would be like with out the likes of Michael Jordan on the sides of the athletes.
Although there seems to be more parity in the salaries of all races in professional athletics, it has taken possibly a longer road to get there for other sectors of employment. African-Americans has played a very important role in the growth of American and in the bettering of labor unions. African-Americans when they first arrived here as slaves definitely had skills and abilities because they were sold as if they were commodities. When slavery was abolished and they were allowed to works free men and they took their skills to the labor force. "Slavery was uniquely American", stated Gerald Hunt in his article Labor Union Response to Diversity. Slavery existed in other countries, but was very unique here in the United States.
African-Americans inclusion in the free labor force increased the economic output in America. It added another consumer to the loop of production. Even though the African-American and other minorities added value to the economy they were not always treated as valuable additions to the economy as briefly shown in the example of Jackie Robinson's inclusion to professional baseball. In Hunt's article he discussed the inclusion of the minorities in labor unions, but their unequal treatment. African-Americans generally worked longer more arduous days and were not compensated accordingly. The males tended to enter in the manufacturing sector and the women into low paying unionized jobs in the service sector.
Many strides had been taken to include African-Americans into the labor unions, but not with much benefit to them. They would do the same or even more work and receive less pay and benefit. That is why there have been many different laws enacted today that eliminate these discrepancies. One of these acts was the Wagner Act. The Wagner Act states that management can't discriminate in regards to hiring or tenure of employees seeking to join or not join a labor organization.
This act enables all, not just African-Americans, to join labor unions with out the repercussions of unfair labor practices. Another movement that has helped the minorities' plight to gain equal representation is Affirmative Action. Affirmative Action states that employers or groups must not disqualify people on basis of race or gender. This movement tries to make a level playing field for all. Although AA (Affirmative Action) tries to bring equality amongst the work force, it has an adverse affect at times because it is seen as reverse discrimination. The force that empowers labor unions is their solidarity and their unique skills and abilities.
AA undermines that unity to an extent even though its intent is to diversify unions and the work place. All men in the labor war did not start off with the same advantages, but we have taken determinate steps to bring us to a more diversified labor force. As discussed earlier in the paper unity and solidarity are key to the success of labor unions. Many times workers had prejudices against their coworkers of different background and race. This was a stumbling block on their path to solidarity and unity and diminished their bargaining power. While this was a problem amongst the workers, another big problem was entrenched with the employers or management.
In Alexander Saxton's article the management of the coalfields did not think the miner's labor union had much power because of its diversity. In many cases management did not want to deal with African-Americans of different minorities. To avoid having to interact with the different minorities they would cause strife amongst the workers causing a lack of unity. These acts to pull the unions apart were generally the case in smaller places of employment. Bigger businesses did not have as big an issue with having colored people in their work force because they needed workers more than the smaller firms to remain economically viable. Smaller firms were more exclusive and paid lower wages to the colored workers to force them out of the work place into other sectors.
This trend worked and many of the African-Americans entered the larger firms and garnished larger wages for their work. In an article by Carrington, McCue, and Pierce in The Journal of Human Resources they stated many things might have caused this trend. They believe those smaller firms' attitudes towards African-Americans, Affirmative Action, and Title 7 had affects, but the rapidly increasing quality of education between 1960 and 1970 of black schooling may have been the largest factor. It is hard to pin point the exact cause, but larger firms truly needed more workers and they did not care too much about their background if they were qualified hard workers.
Smaller firms can be more selective in who they hire. They try to hire the most qualified individuals because of lack of funds and they need to be economically efficient. In today's society smaller firms are losing out to bigger firms for this reason. Now that the smaller firms are struggling to compete they are looking for reprieves in many ways such as the African-Americans were looking for all along.
Bigger firms have more resources to pay individuals and need more employees. This allows them to hire a more diverse work force. As discussed earlier laws have been passed to help bridge the gap between the races. The biggest gap that is going to help bring more equity in labor unions and the work force of America is education. In the article in the Journal of Human Resources Carrington, McCue, and Pierce said improvements in black schooling was the cause for the closing of the gap in wages between blacks and whites. This argument has much merit to it.
In the coal fields of Alabama the black workers were not as educated as their white counter parts. Education is a very important part of success. When African-Americans were made slaves here in America they were not allowed to learn how to read or write. Reading and writing opens many doors and expands people's outlooks on life.
This is why slaves were not allowed to be taught for fear of them leaving. The key to eliminating the gap in wage and equity is education. When African-Americans were first excluded from labor unions they could not do anything about it because they were not educated enough to know their rights. As was the case when they were included and received less pay and benefits for equal work. Many of the laws that were passed in regards to labor issues were also made to include education. Many minorities are born into less than advantageous circumstances because of the gap in wage differential and education.
Many of these laws and movements are for laborers and kids going into college. Admirable as they may be, they occur too late in the ballgame to have a profound affect. It was once stated, "If you give a man a fish you feed him for now, but if you teach him how to fish you feed him for a life time". The point being if you teach these kids from a young age they have a better chance for success than if you give them these advantages later in life. In the Journal of Human Resources they stated improvements in black schooling have helped them in the labor force.
The fact is the improvements they were talking about were in colleges. If we were to put more emphasis on elementary students I believe the gap would close even more. Having more African-Americans as union bosses would help bridge the gap in pay equity and benefits. Affirmative Action is not the answer to getting more equity and African-American as union bosses, education is.
We have made many strides in America over the years. We have endured many hardships and disasters. We are now the most industrious country in the world. We have become such through much hard work and cooperation. Labor in the United States has made a great step since the days of the labor unions in the Alabama coalfields. Today our labor unions are very diversified because of many laws, movements, and hard work.
When slaves arrived in the U.S. no one would have imagined the positions they would hold today. African-Americans have gone from servitude to productive parts of society with many freedoms and rights. Martin Luther King's dream has become more of a reality. Big and small companies alike are starting look more at the labor union as a whole and not the individuals that make up the union. As stated earlier labor unions were formed to protect the rights of individuals and to keep businesses from taking advantage of their employees. Blacks now have many of the same rights because they stuck through the hard times to gain their reward.
There are many people to thank for the state and make up of labor unions in America today. The next big hurdle, now that we are starting to front are problems with labor unions here in the U.S., is international labor unions. Maybe 80 to 90 years from now the same will be said about international labor unions as was said about interracial labor unions. America and the world are an ever-changing place. The make up of labor unions has taken many steps from all white or black to interracial to possibly international in the future. Thanks to the studies and the history of labor union diversity we can better handle the possibilities of an international labor union.
Some may say change is bad, but I believe that the changes of the work force and labor unions are better for our economy and our society.