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A History of the Labor Movement and its Benefit on Trade Unions:

CLN4U Canadian and International Law (413)


Benjamin Belovich
Mr. Aaron Harvey
7 March 2016

A History of the Labor Movement and its Benefit on Trade Unions


Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the thirty second president of the United States and
one of the most influential men in history once said: If I went to work in a factory, the
first thing I would do is join a union. In 1998, Unions in Canada covered 34.5% of the
Canadian population, or 4.75 million people. This figure fluctuated over the years and in
2014, 31.5% of people were covered, (Canadian Labor Program, Union Coverage in
Canada until 2014). Since the industrial revolution in the early 1850s, trade unions have
been incredibly popular, to unite workers who fight for a common goal, keeping their
jobs and keeping them fair. Unions are a positive attribute to the workforce and many
examples, which have been illustrated throughout the history of the labor movement and
have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed,
(Clarence Darrow).
It can be said that the story throughout the history of Canada as well as the United
States is the story of its working people: their struggles and most importantly, their
successes as well as their many hopes for a better future for themselves and their families.
Cripple Creek, Colorado was a booming small western desert town. With fourteen
casinos and many hotels for guests to stay, it was a small gambling haven, (AFL-CIO,
Americas Unions). Starting in 1894, Cripple Creek was famous for many dramatic and
important strikes and battles, in which the workers of the town fought to protect their
well-deserved rights. Gold was previously discovered in the town, more than 150 mines
were created to harvest it. With all the mines, came the citys first miners union: the Free
Coinage Union Number 19. This gave miners the chance to stand up for their rights,
when the government intervened and limited the gold harvesting laws and their rights.

A second example illustrating the positive attributes of trade unions in history can
be seen clearly as a result of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which occurred in
Manhattan, New York. This event was the deadliest industrial accident in the citys
history. The factory, employing new immigrants from Ireland and Italy caught on fire. A
common practice of owners of the building was to lock the emergency stairwells and
exits. This was to prevent their workers from theft as well as taking breaks that were not
allowed. Due to the locked doors, more than two hundred employees were unable to
escape the building, dying of smoke inhalation and severe burns. After the fire, New York
legislations drastically changed. This improved factory safety and helped spur the
growth of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU), (Key Events in
Labor Movement). These ladies were successful; they came together and fought for better
working conditions with the help of over 200,000 supporters. As individuals, they would
not have been as successful. Also, as a result of the fire, many other safety organizations
were formed, which improved the quality of fire responders, health teams and sweatshop
working conditions. Some of the organizations, which were created, are: American
Society of Safety Engineers and Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition.
Going back in time a while to the early 1880s, slavery was many decades past.
However, black women were still treated unequally, many of them only being able to
secure jobs such as washwomen. Incredibly unfair treatment and low wages led to the
1881 Atlanta Washerwomen Strike. This was a mass strike and protest in which thousands
of black laundresses went on strike to achieve increased pay as well as demanding respect
for the challenging, great work that they do. They were also competing for control based

on how their work was organized. The laundresses took on Atlantas business and
political establishment and gained so much support that they threatened to call a general
strike, which would have shut the city down, (Ibid). This is yet another example of how
when many people work together, their social strength increases and they most often
times end up achieving their common goal, which in this example is higher pay and
respect for what they do, also known as peaceful protesting.
Trade unions, labor unions or simply unions, are all formal organizations of wage
earners who are united together for mutual aid and who seek protection for dealing
collectively with their employers. It is often proven that a thousand voices are more
powerful than one. Therefore, coming together and expressing your wants, respectfully of
course, is more likely to have success. These unions, seen now all over the world have
done more for humanity than any other group of organizations combined.

Works Cited
AFL-CIO. (n.d.). Key Events in Labor HIstory. Retrieved from America's Unions:
http://www.aflcio.org/About/Our-History/Key-Events-in-Labor-History
Government of Canada. (n.d.). Union Coverage in Canada. Retrieved March 7, 2016,
from Labour Program:
http://www.labour.gc.ca/eng/resources/info/publications/union_coverage/union_coverage.
shtml
Roosevelt, F. D. (n.d.). Did FDR oppose collective bargaining for government workers?
Retrieved from Politifact:
http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2013/aug/13/scott-walker/Did-FDRoppose-collective-bargaining-for-governmen/
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire 1911. Retrieved from Wikipedia: The
Free Encyclopedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire