The American Labor Movement dates back to the eighteenth century and the industrial revolution in Europe. During this time there was a huge surge of new workers into the workplace that needed representation.
In the United States history of unions, early workers and trade unions played an important part in the role for independence. Although their physical efforts for the cause of independence were ineffective, the ideas they introduced, such as protection for workers, became part of our American culture.
The Most Famous Labor Union in History
In the history of America’s trade and labor unions, the most famous union remains the American Federation of Labor (AFL), founded in 1886 by Samuel Gompers. At its pinnacle, the AFL had approximately 1.4 million members. The AFL is credited with successfully negotiating wage increases for its members and enhancing workplace safety for all workers.
The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) under John L. Lewis and the larger AFL federation underwent a huge expansion during World War II. The AFL-CIO merger occurred in 1955.
Where Are We Today?
Union membership and power peaked around 1970. At that time, private sector union membership began a steady decline that continues today. However, membership in public sector unions continues to grow consistently. According to the Department of Labor, the 2015 union membership rate was 11.1% and the number of workers belonging to unions was 14.8 million.