The Context for Worker Unions
David Wiles, Eaps 760


Prior to the organized union the worker was either a member of the patronage string or an autonomous individual capable of being calculated in mechanical terms, such as the capacity to load "amounts of pig iron per hour." Although later discussion will note how personal motivation was "found" to influence worker productivity in the Hawthorne experiments, the first three decades after the turn of the 20th century provided major sociological changes that gave rise to worker unionization.

Although affecting military veterans of World War One, the "Coxey's Army" incident could be one of the major contributors to growing "labor" unrest. Returning veterans were promised a bonus for their military service but considerations by the Hoover Administration several years later (1929-1932) decided to cancel the promise. Veterans came from all parts of the county (from urban Detroit to rural Arkansas) to camp on the Washington mall green and protest the Hoover decision. they were later forcibly removed from the campground by the military. This was one of the first major efforts at collective action.

A second feature was the concept of Prohibition. In this section we will discuss whether school administration is best understood as premises of managing, as appreciation of political theory or as adherence to law. In a sense, the thirteen year effort to prohibit alcohol (and narcotic drugs) in the United States by law (Constitutional Amendment, ratified by three fourths of the states) demonstrated the real meaning of growing social complexity in the nation. Political interests and "consumer satisfaction" argued for the pragmatic reality of alcohol (and to a lesser extent, other illegal drugs) in America despite the ideological assertions and legal mandates against such "evils." Prohibition began with much moral fanfare in the early 1920's and was repealed with a whimer in 1933.

The third feature was woman's suffrage and achieving the right to vote in 1922. The idea of women working "the same" as men would not become a reality until the necessity of the World War Two condition, but women in the 1920's had declared their consideration as fully functioning citizens and individuals

The final feature was the great economic Depression from 1929 through the mid 1930's. Arguably, the economic collapse of the "rugged capitalism" spirit and "laissez faire" economics of government by itself would create the rise of labor unions. The idea of workers uniting was threatening to many when coupled to the economic collapse and the Great Depression. Much of the FDR Federalism of the 1930's used the threat of American unions becoming "bombthrowing communists" to push for centralized and all encompassing government control.

For educational management looking to "engines of industry" for guidance, the concept of organized labor was abit unsettling. The separate specialization of manager from teacher-as-worker was just occurring (particularly in the secondary schools). The vast majority of the teacher corps were women, usually discounted as invisable or patronized as "schoolmarm" workers. The "structural-functional" features of both classic bureaucracy and standardized testing formed the meaning of school organization. Unions were nonexistent. The relative power relationship of workers within public education is prefaced to the late 1950's early 1960's time period when teachers (and other public workers) were first allowed to collectively bargain and strike.

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