The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Labor history

Labor history refers to the political, social and legal struggle, working people, in their collective demands for fairer and more humane treatment from their employers and the social law (reformist movements) or to the struggle to abolish all forms of exploitation (revolutionary movements). The cultural and philosophical culmination of previous labor struggles are codified as labor rights and labor law.

Working-class people, by definition, have always been those in society who struggle more to survive, relative to those in who have wealth. The social divide between rich and poor began with civilization, and the attribution of wealth and ownership tends to be intertwined and interchangeable with social position. The social divide is analogous to the master and slave relationship, and it is this balance from which springs much of the current social order. The social need for administration by an authority by nature had to be balanced by the ruler's understanding of and attention to the needs of his subjects, or a natural social revolt would manifest. Much of this balance between ruler and ruled remained, from Mesopotamian kings to feudalist Lords in Europe, until the European discovery of the New World.


America as the catalyst for worker rights philosophy

Current labor history is generally thought to have its philosophical groundwork in the Protestant Reformation. The birth of the United States, fueled by the corporate-controlled colonization of the Americas, promised new hope and opportunity for Europeans, and laid the material basis for the development of a new society, based on more egalitarian principles. While the mass immigration of Europeans to America had dire consequences for Native Americans, it also fueled the development of new directions in thinking about the governments under which people lived. On the simple promise of land ownership for ordinary European peasants, the Americas were quickly colonized under the land incentive system.

The rapid philosophical developments in America would have effects in European and Asian societies as well, spawning the development of communism and socialism, which attempted to address the widespread popular desire of peoples to attempt to change the social order in existing well-populated countries —a much different situation than that faced by Europeans in the sparsely populated New World.

The history of the United States, from the point of view of the administrating powers, had always been a delicate balance between the property rights of landlords and the desires of peasant workers —the Revolutionary War changed only the administration, not the land-incentive system itself. Soon, as American societies developed, the need for the owner classes to be accommodating to the working classes diminished, and the same type of social divide present in European feudalism, became firmly established in America. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, came the use of people as mere components in the production process, and over time, small and disorganized protests began to coalesce into an ordered defiance to the new corporate government, whose means and abuses resembled those that caused people to leave Europe.

From slave rights to worker rights

The enslavement of Africans was considered by many to be a humane social compromise by landowners with European immigrants --less work meant a more leisurely standard of living for Europeans, and a new race-based ideology, cemented would soothe many of the problematic ethnic divides between European Caucasians. The end of slavery with the Civil War brought about a deep resentment on the part of many Europeans, who prospered at leisure at the expence of African labor.

industrial revolution of the mid 1800s.

Workers quickly learn that winning better wages, hours and working conditions depends upon uniting in common cause. Whether they choose to organize into guilds, professional associations or Labor unions, working people discover that there is strength in numbers.

Historically, employers have often opposed organizing efforts. Many times blood has been shed for the sake of advancing the cause of union. List of strikes Working people have used a variety of techniques, or Strike actions, to pursue their goals.

Labor Actions, Historical Tactics

A common tactic was striking, an especially effective strand of which was the sit-down strike which was first used in 1933 and became an effective measure.

Politics and Philosophy

Throughout the early part of the twentieth century, the great question in the labor movement was, craft unionism or industrial unionism?


Mining disasters, etc.


In Colorado, coal miners endured the Ludlow Massacre and the Columbine Mine Massacre.

Links to Labor Memorials

In the United States:

Labor Arts, Music, Culture

Labor Arts

Art and Music and the Labour Movement

Union Songs


The Class Struggle In Art and Music

Working and Union Songs

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04