Free Custom «Labor Movements in the United States» Essay Paper

Free Custom «Labor Movements in the United States» Essay Paper


A critical look into the history and development of labor policy and the rise of labor movement illustrates some disturbing revelations. Beginning with the formation of the National Labor Union in 1866, the conditions of the workers during the industrial revolutions can be best described as appalling (Montgomery, 1987). In till 1900s, the conditions of the worker were characterized by long working hours, poor conditions and low wages. Despite a number of policies and legislations that had been advanced to protect the workers from exploitation by their employers, there was a general feeling that more could still be done to improve the working conditions of the workers. The labor movement was therefore formed as a result of the need to work together with the aim of improving their work conditions (Fitch, 2006 and Nelson, 1998). The concerns of exploitation of children and immigrants in the factories further aggravated the situation and led to the rise of labor unions (Levi, 2003). This research paper focuses on the rise of labor movement in the 20th Century. Towards this, an analysis of the resource mobilization and political process theories to explain the rise of the National Education Association will be dissected. 

National Education Association (NEA) has played the role of representing public schools in the United States since 1857. The union has its Headquarters in Washington D.C. With a total membership of slightly more than three million, NEA primary mission is to “advocate for education professionals and to unite our members and the nation to fulfill the promise of public education to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world” (NEA, 2006). NEA has over these decades attracted members through professional development workshops and seminars as well as lesson plan ideas and advocating for equal educational rights of the minorities.

History of the American Education and the Rise of NEA

The 1861-1865 Civil War saw very few schools survive the hardships of war as there were little to no financial assistance at all. This was essentially because the schools could not operate without the sanctioning of the whites. At the time, local aid from the whites and their support for education was very slow to materialize if existed at all (Morris, 1980). At the end of the civil war, about four million freed slaves were held in the 11 confederate states. The Freedmen’s Bureau was set up in the march, 3, and 1865 to address the freed slaves’ issues and make education a right for all regardless of race and gender (Morris, 1980). This bureau attempted to meet the immediate needs of the freed slaves such as food; clothing and shelter, while also trying to assist the African Americans receive education for enhanced wellbeing and stability in future.

The freedmen’s bureau started developing plans too for the establishment of schools for the freed slaves. This was done to ensure that the problems that delved the educational sector were eliminated. These included poor working conditions, low wages, and low compensation. There was the need to address these challenges. It was within this backdrop of knowledge that NEA was formed to advocate for the rights of teachers in public schools. One significant problem that led to the rise of labor movement within the educational sector was unequal employment opportunities across all racial lines. One step that was used by the labor movement to solicit funds involved the use of The Freedman’s bureau that was initiated in 1866 through the sale of abandoned lands and houses destroyed and left bare or uninhibited after the civil strife. The proceeds of these sales went to support the Bureaus educational efforts (Morris, 1980).

These initiatives were not welcomed at all by the whites who resented the Bureau initiatives and existence for that matter anyway. The displeasure and efforts at ensuring for the non furtherance of the Bureaus initiatives were mainly instigated and advanced through the unfair laws as embedded in the constitution at the time, and the subsequent interpretations. For example, the push for Texas constitution while explicitly stipulating for the advancement of education to all also had the rider that  state funds monies were to go expressly for the support of White scholastic inhabitants of the State (Morris, 1980). This was clearly a question of giving with the right hand and immediately taking the same with the left, because as it were, how were the African Americans going to gain their basic rights to education when no facilities or even provision of other materials necessary for such education were being availed? Essentially, simple deductions entails that education requires funds and subsequently, there can’t be any education when funds are not provided.

The dual form of schooling was still being sanctioned at this time periods. This was perhaps dual to the opposition from the whites towards the African Americans education that may have made it difficult for the Bureau to establish an integrated schools system. Thus, even with the advent of formalized forms of education, racial sanctioning was still very evident. The popular belief was that the races should not mix and was evidenced in such practices as Florida and North Carolina laws that allowed for the separate placement of educational materials for the whites and African Americans (Morris, 1980). Despite all the above hiccups, the number of native schools rose significantly during the period. These were the schools that were founded by the individual African Americans. These great efforts at acquiring education by the African Americans are best echoed by John W. Alford, the national Superintendent of Freedmen’s schools who noted that the African Americans educational quest was insatiable (Anderson, 1988).

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The supply for enough qualified, skilled and dedicated teachers continued to be low at this time. This was because despite the obvious devotion of the available African American teachers, the bureau faced a lot of difficulty in securing and retaining enough of them to meet the current and perceived future demands of African American children. At times, the teachers were barely literate themselves and were useless as educators (Anderson, 1988). This brought up the need for establishing a teachers training institution that would generate a well trained teachers to meet the prevailing demand. The funds for these were obtained largely from benevolent societies funds which were aggregated together. These ventures saw the establishment of more than eleven African American colleges and universities and 61 normal schools in operation by 1871. It is within these disparities in educational opportunities for the African American children that precipitated the need to work together with the aim of improving the work conditions of the teachers but also to create opportunities for the minorities. It is within this premise that NEA believes every student in America, regardless of family income or place of residence, deserves a quality education (NEA, 2006).

NEA’s Application of Social Movements Theories

One area that was highly exploited by NEA in its push for membership was the loss of jobs for the African American teachers and poor work conditions. According to Anderson (1988), the original desegregation issue of equality educational opportunity has become a legacy in which all African Americans during segregation are thought to have lacked quality because they were under funded, under staffed and neglected in many ways by the political structure and society in which they were embedded. Desegregation was originally initiated as a means of establishing equal educational opportunities and resources for African Americans and for the removal of obstacles, both legal and social that separated African Americans and other people of color from whites in Americans schools (Anderson, 1988). However, these noble ideas were not being attained at the rates and speeds anticipated. Anderson (1988) comments that African American schools were carelessly stigmatized as undesirable education settings by political process that surrounded school desegregation. These stigmatization resulted in the closure of a lot of schools without due considerations. This stigmatization was due in most cases was owed to the political social and financial neglect

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Two general categories of literature cover the broad issue of the effects of the brown decision on the teaching fraternity. The first category covers the period immediately the decision were passed and according to Futrell (2004), tend to be brief and espouses negative repercussions such as job losses, demotions and such other negative aspects that impacted on the teachers. The accuracy of such literature has been adversely criticized (Futrell, 2004). The next category offers the impacts on a more personal level. In these cases the focus of the researchers was primarily on occurrences in segregated schools or on teacher life histories.

The immediate impact of the brown decision was massive job losses to the African American teachers, especially those that were poorly trained as they were deemed not meeting the requisite qualifications. Another major loss would stem from the closure of small, local schools that would be soon closed up. Some teachers were also summarily dismissed as a backlash against desegregation, while others were demoted As Futrell (2004),  noted, it was expected from the onset that these desegregation initiatives would be more severely felt on the members of the teaching fraternity. He gave note for example of the number of African American teachers who had gained new positions in southern states. The same time however, 19 African American schools had closed in West Virginia, leaving 15 teachers jobless. These were further reiterated by the fact that educators in Missouri and Kentucky were facing contracts non-renewal. Generally, while educators in large communities would face protection from the law, those in small, local communities faced lesser protection and were left exposed to highly arbitrarily and subjective decisions (Futrell, 2004).

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A survey conducted in 1956 actually proved the above sentiments correct. In Oklahoma, 300 African American teachers were displaced due to the desegregation and could not find employment elsewhere in the state. This was happening elsewhere as well; 60 educators in Kentucky were dismissed, 58 in West Virginia, and 20 each in the states of Texas and Missouri. The teacher’s major fears then as documented by Futrell (2004) were that they had to acquire more training, result in separation of spouses, and underpayment was likely. NEA played an active role in ensuring that teaching opportunities was open to all regardless of race and gender.

The many negative consequences to the teachers and the entire education system have been attributed to several factors. According to Futrell (2004), Supreme Court phrasing of the facilities as inherently unequal was interpreted to mean that African American schools were universally poor and as a consequence, white parents and decision makers dissociated from them. A lot of these schools therefore unfolded since nobody wanted to be associated with them. The other reason can be attributed to the Moberly case, where a total of 13 highly qualified African Americans were dismissed by a school board in 1954; yet 125 white educators were retained, though they couldn’t match the qualifications of the African Americans. This Moberly case was to be used as a legal precedent for ten years to come by those in disfavor of desegregation (Milkman and Voss, 2004). Many African Americans were also disappointed by the failure of the 1966 desegregation guidelines to address policies for teachers’ retention and promotion. As it were, even the department of education ceased to keep records on African American faculty members dismissed following desegregation. It would appear that in the fight for equal education rights for the black students, the black teachers would be the major casualties (Futrell, 2004).

An estimate by Ethridge (1979) suggests that by 1970, a total of 31,584 job positions were lost in 17 states. It is within this understanding of unequal treatment of the African American teachers that NEA played the active role in improving access to job opportunities. In fact, statistics from NEA reveals that this figure, though just an estimate has been quoted by several researchers. If these figures are true, then they would represent 47% loss in all teaching jobs in 1954. The failure however by the southern schools boards to keep records of teachers’ dismissal means that the exact number of teaching jobs lost by the African Americans will never be ascertained for a fact. Needless to say a lot of positions were lost and the personal impact of the desegregation regulation on African American students has thus far been neglected.

In resource mobilization, the earlier strategies employed by NEA to widen its activities and support its members, it relied on members’ contributions and support from charitable organizations.  While employing race, cultural, and oppression are at the center of its activities, NEA effectively managed to reach a wider audience that was not only able to expand its activities but also make it one the largest social labor in the United States.


The promotion of institutional diversity that forms primarily people’s issue is based on the similarities and differences among people within the same learning institution. This forms one of the issues within the American educational sector that has been promoted by NEA. Despite the fact that favorable and equal treatment in the work place especially in regard to job promotion among the minorities has been an issue of social concern, NEA has played a pivotal role in the promotion of fairness and acceptance within the educational sector. Whereas a number of policies have been put forward to address this social challenge, there levels effectiveness cannot be ascertained.

This is because of the secretive nature of hiring and promotional processes in most organizations. These include the enhancement of a better communication culture that has the capacity to enhance cohesion among employees, improve the levels of group management, improve inclusiveness and promote the culture of open mindedness and promotion of a culture of non discrimination of employee working or seeking employment opportunities in education. Attempts to address the problems regarding employment has been done through challenging discrimination patterns during hiring and promotions. An affirmative action policy for hiring and promoting minority groups have also been put in place at all levels of employment.

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Various organizations in education have taken up the fight against the many disparities in the provision of fundamental needs by the state. These organizations include the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Corporate Human Resource Departments, relevant State or Federal laws and regulations, political strategies, government agencies, religious groups and grass root organizations. These organizations have not only developed policies aimed at ensuring fair promotions within the workplaces. They have also “enforced relevant federal laws and regulations that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age 40 or older), disability or genetic information” (Craver, 1995).

The United States has thrived and prospered because of its rich cultural heritage demonstrated by its diverse culture. Minority groups and other diverse cultures have a very important niche in the American society that has contributed to the nation building for centuries. Their fundamental rights and obligations in regard to work place conditions especially in hiring and promotions are best respected and upheld. This must involve the active role of the federal government, the state and relevant organizations charged with the responsibility of ensuring equality in society. Such efforts have been made possible by vibrant social labor movements such as NEA.



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