Labor history of the United States

The labor history of the United States describes the history of organized labor, US labor law, and more general history of working people, in the United States. Beginning in the 1930s, unions became important allies of the Democratic Party.

The nature and power of organized labor is the outcome of historical tensions among counter-acting forces involving workplace rights, wages, working hours, political expression, labor laws, and other working conditions. Organized unions and their umbrella labor federations such as the AFL–CIO and citywide federations have competed, evolved, merged, and split against a backdrop of changing values and priorities, and periodic federal government intervention.

In most industrial nations, the labor movement sponsored its own political parties, with the US as a conspicuous exception. Both major American parties vied for union votes, with the Democrats usually much more successful. Labor unions became a central element of the New Deal coalition that dominated national politics from the 1930s into the mid-1960s during the Fifth Party System.[1] Liberal Republicans who supported unions in the Northeast lost power after 1964.[2][3] In recent decades, an enduring alliance was formed between labor unions and the Democrats, whereas the Republican Party has become hostile to unions and collective bargaining rights.[4]

The history of organized labor has been a specialty of scholars since the 1890s, and has produced a large amount of scholarly literature focused on the structure of organized unions. In the 1960s, as social history gained popularity, a new emphasis emerged on the history of workers, including unorganized workers, and with special regard to gender and race. This is called "the new labor history". Much scholarship has attempted to bring the social history perspectives into the study of organized labor.[5]

By most measures, the strength of organized labor has declined in the United States over recent decades.[6]


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