The Fruits of Civilization (24-6-1) Labor Unions

 Labor Unions

What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails. More books and less guns. More learning and less vice. More leisure and less greed. More justice and less revenge. We want more opportunities to cultivate our better natures. ~ American labor leader Samuel Gompers

Trade unions have a long history, dating back to journeyman associations in later Middle Ages.

The guilds of medieval Europe were different. The masters of guilds employed apprentices and journeymen who were not allowed to organize.

Guilds were hierarchical groups that controlled the supply of both goods and labor: in effect, securing a local monopoly. Guilds so squeezed the labor supply that admission and advancement became difficult, begetting journeyman associations.

Trade unions and/or collective bargaining was outlawed in England from the mid-14th century. Other countries followed.

Facing antagonistic employers and repressive legislation, unions were often weak, localized, and short-lived through much of the 19th century.

The 1848 March Revolution in the German states was an early breakthrough for unionization: the unrest created broad-reaching repercussions throughout the continent. As well as empowering workers, the March Revolution led to the unification of Germany. The revolution also inspired an exiled German who spent much of his time in the London library.