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The transformation from an agrarian society into a contemporary industrial state had deep effects on wage labor in the United States. Despite America being mainly an agricultural nation, Kremer (1993) reveals how the unskilled, semi skilled, as well as skilled workers lived and worked in relatively poor conditions during the early economic times (p. 553).
For instance, a greater percentage of workers were low-wage manual workers living in miserable circumstances. Since employers were interested in low-priced labor, they employed adult females, young kids, and the underprivileged immigrants to work with equipment in the manufacturing plants (Dubofsky 1994, 35).
However, as Rosenfeld (2006) confirms, the industrial insurgency in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century resulted to a significant improvement in wage labor (1641). Even though, the relationship between the state and labor is complex according to critics, the gain of workers and their unions because of the positive state’s intervention surpasses the errors and misfortunes due to its negligence (Huff 1997, 242).
Therefore, the paper reveals how the collaboration of the political goodwill and the restructuring of unions through proper legislative and administrative policy has promoted and fundamentally improved workers’ interests, hence, improving the position of wage labor in the United States.
The restructuring and interaction of labor and capital with different branches of government have fundamentally influenced the substantial labor policies of the US the effect of which has affected the relationship between different regions in terms of congressional representation (Dubofsky 1994, 44). The correlation between government, unions, and capital has been to maintain economic stability.
In fact, as Rosenfeld (2006) posits, the executive and congress endorsed the use of troops against unions (1978). Consequently, labor gained much in the end through the states’ intercession.
However, despite the share of critics that government influences the union-capital relationship, many agree that there are some small significant improvements on the position of wage labor in the United States (Dubofsky 1994, 100). In addition, due to the decline of unions’ authority, experienced recruits in triumphant industries have profited from changes in the workplace.
The government has had an outstanding influence on workers and their movements in the United States. The states’ goal on the independence and democratic system of the unions is to maintain social stability of the workers rather than rendering unions and workers as slaves of capital and the state (Kremer 1993, 556).
As such, Dubofsky maintains that political and administrative policies, as well as the formation and manipulation of the unions’ legislative and managerial branches, emerged to promote stability by enhancing the interests of workers and their union (1994, 26).
Moreover, there has been the realization of some broad revelations of social stability coming from the minds of liberal corporate leaders who champion the freedom and non-exploitation of human.
When critically examined through legal studies, the role of state has spackled discussions as to whether it has reshaped the environment, political, social, and economic life of the workers. However, the riots of the nineteenth century against the formations of hegemonic power have largely brought new demands that resulted to the realization of social and cultural autonomy of the workers (Huff 1997, 247).
In addition, the ability of the workers to affect their lives positively lies heavily on the organizational structure and the strength of their unions. Having enjoyed significant powers since their formations, as confirmed by Dubofsky (1994, 214), the unions have been supported by powerful voices in successive regimes.
Therefore, it is unreasonable to argue that, historically, the government has only repressed and channeled the movements and aspirations of the workers through their unions.
The states through various stakeholders have reorganized the factories and industries characterized by a steep hierarchy to maximize production. With the emergence of new skills and knowledge in the factory and industrial management, workers’ social welfare has improved (Lane and Michael 1998, 714).
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For instance, in the late nineteenth century, the United States was at the peak of industrialization despite the then intense economic competition with other nations (Dubofsky 1994, 287). Therefore, main aim of businesses was to strengthen a competitive position by slashing labor costs as low as possible. Workers violently resisted wage cuts.
As a result, the US and local authorities backed up their businesses with overwhelming unions and strikes (Huff 1997, 185). The sole responsibility of government is to provide security besides ensuring a peaceful coexistence of all. It is a tool of capital to hold workers accountable.
Therefore, the government only appeases any non-militant labor that does not act out against the states’ authority in order to provide the economic stability needed by everyone. Otherwise, as Dubofsky (1994) asserts, the government sided with capital (125). However, unions only benefit when the members organize and threaten militancy, as this has an adverse effect on the economy.
Administrative agencies have devised a coherent legislative labor policy. For instance, Wagner Act, as pointed out by Rosenfeld (2006, 1756), emphasizes much on the relations between law and union action making the government investigate corporate labor practices where the workers benefit significantly.
Sherman Act also significantly improves the position of wage labor, as it grants injunctions against corporate monopolies (Huff 1997, 189). In addition, the federal government labor policy in the late nineteenth century was tremendously helpful to the employers because it allowed bans on strikes that interfered with interstate businesses (Lane and Michael 1998, 711).
Therefore, there has been a positive contribution of government towards the development and improvement of labor unions (Kremer 1993, 559). In addition, legislation and judicial rulings shape the ideology of labor movements, as unions remain immensely influential and powerful.
Addressing the same issue, Dubofsky (1994, 154) confirms how majority of the workers believe in their unions and their representatives who defend them against subjective and heartless employers.
However, the framework of collective bargaining has increased the workers’ freedom of speech in the face of the diehard political wave. Thus, labor policies have promoted and fundamentally improved the position of wage labor in the United States.
The Clayton Act, which declared that workers had the right and freedom to organize and assemble, purportedly exempted unions from the Sherman Act (Rosenfeld 2006, 1501). Nevertheless, some senators and congressional representatives only supported the sections that protected peaceful unions. It again vested much power on the courts, which was to decide and define the limitations of the Act.
The federal government had to re-evaluate the benefits of the employers (Dubofsky 1994, 58). The government also gave unions an honest measure of feasibility in industrial relations. The administration supported the unions against the then board especially when the unions offered an influential and potentially unruly force, which is noteworthy as far as the motivation of workers is concerned (Lane and Michael 1998, 712).
Workers formed labor unions to look into their welfare by advocating decent working environment, wages, and other social statuses. However, the organization of labor unions was significant in terms of shaping the political and economic status of the United States, as confirmed by Rosenfeld (2006, 1475) and Dubofsky (1994, 267).
Although there has been a decline in some industries such as manufacturing industries, there has been a tremendous growth in the service sectors resulting into increased white-collar jobs (Kremer 1993, 563).
Specialization and division of labor have enhanced this by specifying where an individual can work or where he/she can fit best to maximize the output in order to compete favorably with other world’s fluctuating economies.
The states’ initiatives and the emergence of new industries and factories to a certain extent have improved the position of wage labor (Huff 1997, 250). Employers have adapted various incentive programs to motivate industrious employees besides periodic wage increments.
The industries have also absorbed both the unskilled, semi-skilled, and most importantly, the highly skilled workers who can adapt to the ever-changing technologies to meet the dynamic market demands (Dubofsky 1994, 178). As a result, employers have reduced the hierarchy that was rampart in the workplace. They are now only relying on self-motivated and interdisciplinary teams of workers.
The fundamentally improvement of workers’ interests in terms of their wage labor in the United States can be observed especially after the industrial unrest. The federal response to labor crisis in helping the local and state authorities was indeed a plus to the workers. The government, through the congress, appointed an investigatory commission to look into the workers’ grievances (Dubofsky 1994, 39).
The commission condemned the workers and the union management that led to the endorsement of responsible unionism, which later received a lot of support from President Theodore Roosevelt. In this case, the responsible unions were the relatively well paid who had work security.
Since workers were in constant search for their rights, the strikes were remarkably rampant. Roosevelt’s government failed to push for the legislative demands of the American Federation of Labor (Lane and Michael 1998, 716). However, the American Federation of Labor linked up well with the Woodrow Wilson administration.
Consequently, this led to an elemental perfection in the position of wage labor in the United States (Dubofsky 1994, 163). For instance, President Wilson’s Commission on Industrial Relations under the leadership of Frank P. Walsh unsympathetically condemned the extremes of free market capitalism, which led to exploitation of workers.
Roosevelt’s administration had a decidedly impressive detail on labor policy during World War II. Unions failed to have a voice in the conduct of war industries where businesses wholly directed the government committee overseeing war industries (Kremer 1993, 560).
The administration also granted war contracts to anti-union businesses. It was in the interest of the administration to maintain a stable economy during World War II (Dubofsky 1994, 99). On the other hand, an attempt to contain wage growth in order to control inflation led to an outburst of strikes.
The unions benefited in the post-war economy, as wages and benefits of both unions and non-union members steadily increased (Lane and Michael 1998, 703). As a result, it positively changed the position of wage labor in the US.
The union representatives also agreed to multi-year contracts where they drafted lengthy rules and procedures for governing the contracts (Dubofsky 1994, 82). However, when America was losing its ultimate economic power, business leaders watered down the agreements, which they saw as a hindrance to its ability to compete effectively in the global market.
Workers have different political affiliations. There was a reaffirmation of the significance of organized labor in twentieth-century’s history by the political class. The main reason for the struggle for improved labor was to improve the general living standards of the workers in the United States (Huff 1997, 176). Therefore, with the initiation labor acts, the political class has no option but to deliver on their promises (Rosenfeld 2006, 1461).
As a result, there was a mass production with unions achieving what looked unachievable. Big business corporate lost their customary political influence (Dubofsky 1994, 73). The beneficiaries of the outcome were new militant unions whose members had increased wage labor.
Businesses were boosted because, when workers are motivated, the result was only seen in the output of their work (Kremer 1993, 572). In addition, there emerged the industrial democracy in which workers had the freedom of expression and association. The overall effect was maximum cooperation between the workers, unions, and their employers.
In conclusion, the interaction between the federal government, labor movement, and employers should be of mutual benefit. In the US, as revealed in the paper, there are tremendous efforts in place to boost the position of wage labor (Kremer 1993, 612).
While the perceived notion of some Americans is that the state has done little to improve wage labor, the role of the political class on workers and their unions cannot be overlooked (Dubofsky 1994, 71).
For workers to have a sense of belonging, under either formal or informal employment contract, respect for human dignity is paramount. Being a wage laborer is not a disability, as it is a dominant form of work arrangement in most economies (Huff 1997, 166).
Therefore, despite the constant union struggle for harmonization of wage labor contracts, as well as the state and federal government interventions to improve the position of wage labor in United States, few businesses still exploit workers.
Dubofsky, Melvin. 1994. The State and Labor in Modern America. North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press.
Huff, Ann. 1997. Persistent Effects of Job Displacement: The Importance of Multiple Job Losses. Journal of Labor Economics 15: 165-253.
Kremer, Michael. 1993. The O-Ring Theory of Economic Development. Quarterly Journal of Economics 108: 551-627.
Lane, John., and Pasteur Michael. 1998. The Low-Wage Labor Market: Challenges and Opportunities for Economic Self-Sufficiency. Journal of Labor Economics 16: 702-716.
Rosenfeld, Jake. 2006. Organized Labor and Racial Wage Inequality in the United States. Quarterly Journal of Economics 121: 1460-1502