DBQ: Labor Unions:
Attitudes Toward Organized Labor
Were labor unions successful in working out their disputes with big-business owners?
Or did the federal government and the courts need to play a role in settling these disputes?
A labor union is an organization intended to represent the collective interests of workers in negotiations with employers over wages, hours and working conditions. Labor unions are often industry-specific and tend to be more common in manufacturing, mining, construction, transportation and the public sector
Beginning in the late 1800s, labor Unions were designed to stop corrupt business tycoons from taking advantage of their workers. Labor union representation in the United States has declined significantly in the private sector. It is commonly believed that union security clauses compel workers to join unions and pay full dues as a condition of employment, but it is actually illegal for a union to force an employee into full union membership.
Use your knowledge of the organized labor movement and Documents A, B, C, and D to answer questions 1 through 4.
“The workers at the blast furnaces in our steel-rail works once sent in a ‘round-robin’ stating that unless the firm gave them an advance of wages by Monday afternoon at four o’clock they would leave the furnaces. . . . Gentlemen of the Blast Furnace Committee, you have threatened our firm that you will break your agreement and that you will leave these blast furnaces . . . unless you get a favorable answer to your threat by four o’clock today. It is not three but your answer is ready. You may leave the
blast furnaces. . . . The worst day that labor has ever seen in this world is that day in which it dishonors itself by breaking its agreement. You have your answer.”
—The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie, August 1920
“In the winter of 1893–1894 the employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company . . . joined the new American Railway Union . . . attempting to organize all workers connected with the railways. . . . The [Pullman] company refused to consider arbitration and the boycott went into effect. . . . Indictments charging Debs [president of the American Railway Union] and others of violations of the Sherman Act were secured. . . . As a
result of the various injunctions, indictments, and the activities of federal troops which reached Chicago, following directions from President Cleveland, the strike and the consequent violence were practically at an end by the middle of July.”
—Labor and the Sherman Act by Edward Berman, 1930
“There was a time when workmen were denied the right of leaving their employers, when they were part of the soil, owned by their employers. . . . Not many years ago, when workmen counseled with each other for the purpose of resisting a reduction in their wages or making an effort to secure an increase, it was held to be a conspiracy punishable by imprisonment. Through the effort of organized labor, an enlightened public sentiment changed all this until to-day the right to unite for material, moral, and social improvement on the part of workers is accepted by all.”
—Samuel Gompers to Editor, Washington Evening Star, May 15, 1900
1. In Document A, what view does Andrew Carnegie take toward organized labor?
2. Which document is a secondary source that describes how the Sherman Act was used as a legal tool to end a strike?
3. Who does the cartoonist ridicule in Document D?
4. Writing Task Who do you think was correct about the way to settle disputes between organized labor and big business: business owners, organized labor, or the government? Use your knowledge of the chapter content and specific evidence from the primary and secondary sources above to support your opinion.