Labor Markets, Unions, and Government Policies

By Everett Johnson Burtt Jr. | Go to book overview

7 ■
THE DEVELOPMENT OF UNION ORGANIZATION AND POLICIES BEFORE THE 1930's

Unions Before the Knights of Labor

The First Unions

The first unions must be distinguished from guilds, which were organizations of journeymen and masters. The refusal of master bakers in New York in 1741 to make bread, for example, was a protest against the city's regulated price of bread, not one of wage earners against their employers. According to Perlman, the first strike of wage earners occurred in 1786, when Philadelphia printers "turned out" for a minimum wage of $6.00 a week, and the first organization of wage earners with a continuous existence was formed by Philadelphia journeymen cordwainers (shoemakers) in 1792. Before 1819 journeymen societies were organized in New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, and other cities, not only among printers and cordwainers, but also among carpenters, tailors, and sailors. These societies were local trade unions, each built around a specific skill, but there was little if any connection between one society and another, even in the same community, or contact among the unions of the same trade in different communities.1

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1
Selig Perlman, A History of Trade Unionism in the United States ( New York, Macmillan, 1937), pp. 3-5. The basic references for the history of labor are John R. Commons , ed., A Documentary History of American Industrial Society, 11 vols. ( Glendale, Calif., Arthur H. Clark Co., 1910-11); John R. Commonset al., History of Labor in the United States, 2 vols. ( New York, Macmillan, 1918), and Selig Perlman and Philip Taft, History of Labor in the United States, 1896-1932 ( New York, Macmillan, 1936), vol. IV.

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