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Why Unions Matter

Produced by The Democratic Party of Evanston

February 2011

With the full-scale attack on collective bargaining launched by Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker, maybe you're wondering how to convince your colleagues, friends or family that unions deserve support. Or perhaps, frankly, you need to hear those arguments yourself. The case is clear: a vibrant, powerful labor movement makes for a better America. Here's the evidence, with links providing more information.

Read more: Why Unions Matter


Massacre at Republic Steel

by William Bork

The 1930's was a period of great economic hardship for the American people, a period of upheaval in the social and political structure. Streets were filled with hungry people waiting in breadlines. During the Great Depression, workers also walked the picket lines demanding their rights under laws passed during the New Deal.

The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), passed in 1933, contained a section guaranteeing to workers a right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. Several large and sometimes violent strikes occurred in 1934 involving unions struggling for recognition as collective bargaining agent under the NIRA. Toledo, Minneapolis, and San Francisco were scenes of three of the best known strikes.

The level of strike activity was the highest in American history. Between May, 1933 and July, 1937, 10,000 strikes took place involving some 5,600,000 workers. It was a period of bitter conflict between Capital and Labor.

In May 1935, the NIRA was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Its labor provisions, however, were replaced on July 5, 1935 by the National Labor Relations Act, popularly referred to as the Wagner Act.

This act set up elaborate machinery for the determination of collective bargaining agencies and for the protection of labor from unfair practices by employers who might attempt to hinder union organization. By its protection of workers who chose to organize, it went much further than any previous law to encourage a policy of collective bargaining. The steelworkers were among the first to begin organizing under this new law.

Read more: Massacre at Republic Steel


Address to 1894 Convention of American Railway Union

by Jennie Curtis, President of ARU Local 269, the "Girls" Local Union.

Mr. President and Brothers of the American Railway Union:

We struck at Mr. Pullman because we were without hope. We joined the American Railway Union because it gave us a glimmer of hope. Twenty-thousand souls, men, women, and little ones, have their eyes turned toward this convention today; straining eagerly through dark despondency for a glimmer of the heaven-sent message which you alone can give us on this earth.

Pullman, both the man and the town, is an ulcer on the body politic. He owns the houses, the schoolhouse, and the churches of God in the town he gave his once humble name.

And, thus, the merry war -- the dance of skeletons bathed in human tears -- goes on; and it will go on, brothers, forever unless you, the American Railway Union, stop it; end it; crush it out.

And so I say, come along with us, for decent conditions everywhere!


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"And I long to see the day when Labor will have the destiny of the nation in her own hands and she will stand as a united force and show the world what the workers can do." --- Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, 1830-1930

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