How The Various Struggles Workers and Labor Movements Benefited Los Angeles’s Own Labor Organizations
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The defeat of the open shop lobby was the catalyst to the union upsurged in Los Angeles during in the mid-to-late 1930’s. It opened the opportunity for a plethora of specific and general forms of labor organizations to directly appeal and apply to various groups. The unique ability for the creation of specific organization sparked an uprising in movements that expresses radical and socialistic ideologies, which ultimately led to the greatest transformation of social movements. Unions in the City of Los Angeles modeled their social movements and organization tactics off of the progressive and radical approaches that occurred in the industrial heartlands of the Northeast and Midwest cities in the United States. By approaching labor organization using different radical and socialistic idealogical tactics, strategies were developed to satisfy the hope of providing workers with a promising future.
With the existence of politics, individuals may find themselves being on the spectrum of agreeing or disagreeing with various propositions and perspective political parties project. Some individuals, however, take their ideologies to the extreme and can be considered radicals. Radical groups and individuals can be defined as being an entity who exercises their beliefs in extreme or exaggerated degrees. Radicalisms contributed to the creation of several labor organizations such as the Knights of Labor (KOL) and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The Knights of Labor were believed to be the first labor organizations who fought for the eight-hour day campaign. The eight-hour day campaign started in Chicago and was fighting to attain a law that would limit workers to eight hours of work per day. This campaign turned into a riot on May 4, 1886 in Haymarket Square. The riot was deadly due to police intervention and the Knights of Labor were the ones accused for this outcome. The members of Knights of Labor were exercising their frustrations because their experience with oppression from their employers. They were treated as replaceable objects by the employers bottom line of making money. This created a set back in the progression of radical social movements because a heightened sense of fear formed.
In Los Angeles, the action of worker militancy was applied by frustrated immigrants and manufacturing employees in the El Monte berry pickers strike located in the San Gabriel Valley in 1933. The Mexican workers petitioned for increased wages, but when rejected by the Japanese land owners, halted their labor for the next 6 weeks of the strike. An internal dispute erupted when it came to choosing who to lead the movement; either for it to be led by the communist Anglo’s or by the leader of the berry pickers. Aside from the internal struggle, this strike was a milestone for the identity of Mexican workers. It was a starting point to valuing Mexican workers efforts and solidarity. Another example of a militant worker action was The Great 1934 San Pedro Dock Strike. This strike sparked from the frustration of having union leaders who would not effectively resolve conflicts between other unions on the marine. The strike turned violent when shipowners brought in strike breakers and led to the death of a striker and several others injured. These two examples are significant because they exemplify the strikers immediate jump to violence when threatened by their employers, similarly to the actions of the strikers in the Haymarket Riot. The radical approach to having a labor organization heard frightened other organizers possibly because they saw that using violence as a tactic to be heard, did not resolve or address the concerns of the strikers.
Because of the realization that violence did not truly address strikers concerns, people shied away from radicalism and looked for a softer approach to unionization. This sparked the creation of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The AFL took a different approach to organizing and called it “pure and simple” unionism. “Pure and Simple” implied that politics would be excluded from the unions organization. However, the problem with excluding politics from labor organization is that it weakens the power of organization and dilutes the ability to expand because there is a lack of focus in beliefs. Laslett argues that “If the Los Angeles labor movement was to grow, it needed to move beyond “pure and simple unionism” and become part of a dynamic social movement committed to social and political change.” Pure and simple was not effective enough because it didn’t exert enough power to establish ethos. To attempt to resolve this, politics could be implemented to exert a level of power lacked in “pure and simple” unionism.
The AFL eventually noticed the need for politics in their organization. Therefore, the AFL took on the concept of “business unionism” which, in practice, was a politician selected by the union to represent workers for negotiation with employers. One of the unions under AFL were the Teamsters led by Dave Beck who implemented the “top-down” method which “pressure employers into signing union contracts.” This method was successful and greatly contributed to the union upsurge in Los Angeles. This success brought confidence and hope, but most importantly, it proved that politics brought the power “pure and simple” unionism lacked.
The failure of the “pure and simple” unionism lead to the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) who organized in hopes of diminishing the employing class. Although the IWW was considered to be a radical in their efforts, they were a socialist group because they believed that all workers should be represented, regardless of gender or race. In addition, they opposed the ideas of craft unionism or the need for collective bargaining because what they produced would be shared collectively as a community. To combat the existence of the arbitrary labor system, the IWW worked with the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to draft the National Labor Relation Board (NLRB). Yates states that “the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), was established by the NLRA to investigate employer violations of the act and to conduct elections in which workers can freely choose whether or not they want to be represented by a union.” The NLRB union elections protected employees regardless of their desire to join a union. The IWW’s affiliation with the NLRB showcases that collective bargaining and politics became vital to the successes of union organization.
The NLRB overlapped in importance when involved with the dispute between the AFL and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). In 1935 the CIO joined the AFL but was eventually removed in 1937 due disagreeing on approaches to unionizing. This occurred during the time of the Great Depression where the economy collapsed and workers needed stability and representation. Since the AFL and CIO lacked the strength to develop a plan together, the organizing efforts deteriorated, ultimately making them reestablish themselves as separate labor organizations. It must also be addressed that the role of Upton Sinclair’s End Poverty in California (EPIC) plan was not strong enough to last, so its members joined the Los Angeles Democrats and CIO unions in the formation of the New Deal coalition.
This plan caused for a large change in the dominating political party. Workers changed from wanting mostly Republican representation to favoring Democratic representation over the course this depression. It is believed to be increasingly different from the East and Midwest states because Los Angeles had significantly smaller amount of manufacturing workers. The rise of the democratic party brought hope to workers because with the New Deal in place could come a rise of the National Industrial Recovery Act which would open the opportunities for work and expansion to Los Angeles’s Long Beach oil industry and to the United States.
The various struggles workers and labor movements faced across the United States benefited Los Angeles’s own labor organizations by supplying them with ideas and templates on how they could organize as a union. It took a collective effort for change to be made but strikes ultimately exemplified the power of collective representation of social movements and organizations. The most impactful strikes utilized radical and socialistic tactics that lured employers to ultimately collectively bargain with the unions. The genealogy of these movements highlight the strength political parties have in evoking and targeting aspects of individual’s beliefs and use those emotions to to sway their conceptions of their needs and wants. Overall, the economic growth in City of Los Angeles during the 1930’s prospered because of the labor organization efforts who realized it takes a collective effort to expand and create change.