Modern World History 3.11 Unions: the People Who Brought You Weekends

Today we're tackling unions, a.k.a. the people who brought you weekends, a.k.a. the greatest people who have ever existed. We'd send them a thank you card, but we're too busy sleeping in until two in the afternoon. 

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Transcript

00:26

Yep, that's mansions with an "s".

00:29

In exclusive East Coast resort towns you'll never see. [A boy enjoys on the beach]

00:33

Your boss’ favorite hobby is buying politicians

00:35

and he doesn’t care that he makes as much money as he does

00:37

because the working conditions you labor in, quite frankly, suck. [The boss offers money to the politician]

00:41

So how do you—itty-bitty you—wrestle a better life for yourself from this jerk?

00:46

Well, you hope to be bitten by a radioactive spider and get yourself some sweet super powers and... [A hand tries to grab a spider]

00:51

Well, okay, that never happens.

00:52

So, what do you actually do?

00:53

Well, you unionize.

00:54

A union is a group of people who come together to bargain collectively with management.

00:59

No individual has enough power to squeeze concessions out of the big boss-man. [Two guys arm wrestle]

01:03

But all the individuals in a factory or an industry?

01:06

Well, that's another story. [A man runs away leaving his hand behind]

01:07

The Labor Movement in the United States got its start

01:10

in 1866 with the foundation of the National Labor Union.

01:14

While this organization sought to bring all of labor together under one big umbrella, it wasn’t the most inclusive of groups. [A guy holds umbrella]

01:18

Chinese workers weren’t invited to the clubhouse,

01:22

and the National Labor Union was reluctant to help African Americans and women in the workplace.

01:28

While the National Labor Union did achieve its goal of getting [pregnant woman in labor]

01:30

an eight-hour workday for government workers signed into law,

01:33

government agencies pushed back by reducing pay.

01:36

When the organization’s leadership decided that

01:38

electoral politics was its tool—its only tool—of choice, [boss gives presentation]

01:42

the group’s membership jumped ship and left for the Knights of Labor.

01:46

The Knights of Labor were dreamers.

01:48

They wanted life to be better for everybody, not just workers. [Knights of Labor logo]

01:51

Unfortunately, in 1886, the Knights of Labor were blamed

01:54

when someone threw a bomb during a peaceful [demonstration at Hay market Square in Chicago]

01:56

demonstration at Haymarket Square in Chicago.

01:59

While the organization struggled along for several more decades, it was a ghost of its former self.

02:04

No one likes a bomb thrower.

02:05

1886 was a busy year for labor.

02:07

While the Knights of Labor were going under, [The criminals are hanged]

02:09

the American Federation of Labor was rising up.

02:12

This particular umbrella organization was made up of craft unions, [workers work in the office]

02:16

or groups organized around a trade, with the members in each group ranked by skill level.

02:21

We're assuming "bead-stringing" was the lowest level. [A girl holds a bead]

02:24

Led by Samuel Gompers, an English-born cigar maker,

02:27

the AFL became the most powerful pro-labor force [The photo of Samuel Gompers appears on screen]

02:30

in the U.S. and kept its position well into the 20th century.

02:33

The AFL merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations [women protests against the government]

02:37

in 1955,

02:38

and the AFL-CIO still exists today, with millions of members.

02:42

The International Workers of the World, [logo of Industrial Workers of the World]

02:44

or IWW, got its start in 1905.

02:47

The IWW wanted to bring all workers together into one big, happy union. And we do mean all workers. [various skilled laborers gather]

02:53

The IWW didn’t give a toss for racism, sexism, or prejudice against the employees of particular industries.

02:59

The method of collective bargaining

03:01

employed by all these unions

03:02

led to a number of improvements for the working class. [various improvements in labor rules]

03:05

Wages got better.

03:06

Hours got better.

03:07

Working conditions improved.

03:09

But, even as the Labor Movement chipped away at the power of big business, big business fought back, often violently.

03:15

For example, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877

03:17

began when the B&O, or Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, [image of Great Railroad strike]

03:21

cut wages for the third time in a year.

03:23

And yes, some people did call the B&O railroad, the Body Odor Railroad. Yeah, but, c'mon, they were asking for it. [boy cries beside a train]

03:29

Railroad workers in West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Missouri consequently walked off the job. [markers placed on the map]

03:35

Soldiers were called out to put down the strike and a number of people on both sides of the issue were injured or killed.

03:40

Even today, unions and industry continue to duke it out over issues like [A girl walks away from a non union worker to a union worker group]

03:44

whether or not government workers who choose not to join

03:46

unions should be required to help pay for collective bargaining.

03:50

And ethically, it's a big problem because America's competing with non-union labor from other countries [empty customer care call center]

03:56

who work for a dollar a day and well, union workers here aren't too happy about that.

04:00

But then the big businesses they work for go bankrupt. [worker protest against outsourcing of jobs]

04:03

It's a tussle that isn't ending anytime soon. [A businessman stands near protesting workers and declares himself bankrupt]