Wagner Act of 1935 that is also known as National Labor Relation Act was drafted by Wagner who was the U.S. senator from New York. This act guarantees workers from the private sector the right to organize and belong to a trade union. It was formulated to protect workers from companies in case the employees wanted to engage in collective bargaining with their employer. Wagner Act outlines five significant provisions which protect the workers. This requirement ranges from restricting the employer from denying the worker a right to join a trade union of his or her choice to ensure that the companies engage in collective bargaining with the trade unions or the worker’s representatives. Under this act, there are also provisions which dictate how a trade union is formed highlighting all the scope of its activities. The document was drafted to address the labor issues which were facing the country. To determine if this act was successful in resolving the labor question at the time, it would be prudent to look at the situation of labor before enactment of this law. Wagner Act resolved the labor question by allowing the formation of trade unions to negotiate workers’ welfare by championing pay rise, working hours per day and improved working conditions.
In the 19th century and in the early 20th century, America’s economy saw a rapid development and innovation in industries, such as steel and oil. It was as marked with significant technological advancement. Despite this growth, the labor was mainly composed of semi-skilled and unskilled workers. Companies were left at the liberty of determining crucial issues regarding employees such as working hours, salaries, benefits and overall working conditions. It was boosted by the lack of federal government regulation in the industry. The local state governments failed to act as they were controlled by the big businesses. As the companies strived to make more profit, they would lower the wages drastically and extend their working hours. The immigrants’ influx, which was witnessed during this period, made sure that unskilled labor was readily available and worsened the low wages situation. Women and children were mostly hit as their wages were fractions of what men earned for the same work done. It is interesting that only one state by 1874 had enacted a law to address the issue of working hours. Massachusetts was the state which passed a law limiting the number of working hours for children and women to 10 hours per day (Lichtenstein 253).
With all the above-mentioned freedom by companies to deal with their workforce in companies’ interest, there was a lot of disruptions and uncertainty. Workers started to demand their rights to better wages and working conditions as some would even die, especially, in the steel sector. These actions lead to strikes and federal government intervention. The example in 1877 the workers from the rail downed their tools of trade after a pay cut of 10%. This pay cut leads to the famous Great Rail Strike of 1877 (Nelson and Campbell 15). The federal government would only intervene where workers had stroke. It resulted in the destruction of properties as these confrontations were often brutal since strikes were illegal at the time. With time various regulations were introduced in the labor market but were only regarding the government employees. It made the private sector workers continue to experience the worsening situation. It was not until 1935 when the Wagner Act was enacted, which saw the first law regulating how the private sector workers would be treated. Before determining if the labor question which the law intended to address was fully resolved it would be important to first look at how the labor market affected by this law progressed after its enforcement.
The law championed the right of workers in joining unions. It made sure that all the grievances which the workers had would be addressed through proper channels that were legally instituted. Moreover, the employees were given a chance to air their rights in the union freely as one pillar of the law made sure that no worker would be victimized by appearing to the union and airing various grievances. Due to this fact, the department of human resource in major companies was restructured to accommodate trade unions. Moreover, collective bargaining was witnessed in major industries which negotiated better working conditions for employees.
As this law was enforced by the federal government, it touched to all states, and it resulted in a unified and common labor practices in major states. It ensured that any company would operate in different states. The advantage this had in addressing the labor challenges which were present was that the companies started to adopt a given working hours schedule per week. Furthermore, with many businesses been in a position to operate at a multi-state level, the wages would be negotiated and set uniformly (Gutman 548). It was a significant step towards the formation of minimum wages which would later be possible. The minimum salary helped in the deal with the greatest problem that the labor question was revolving around. By ensuring better pay to the workers, rampant strikes and labor disruptions were mitigated, and the act played a significant role to answer the labor question.
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The uncertainty which was witnessed before the formation of Wagner Act was addressed. It was by eliminating the confrontation of workers with their employers which would see the former result in the destruction of properties. The trade unions were given the responsibility of representing the workers, and, thus, any confrontation was avoided. Moreover, the rights of workers were assured as employers were not in a position to fire their employees in any way unless there was a breach of contract. It gave the labor market some stability. On their part, companies were given a provision to go to court and stop any strike which would affect their operations if their deemed the call of the strike was not justifiable. The legal means brought about some sense of justice to the employers, and, thus, the uncertainty, which was initially present, was reduced.
The only objection which would be found in Wagner Act in addressing issues concerning collective bargaining was involvement of the courts. Many have argued that by giving the court a chance to call off a strike, the labor issues would be ignored and this would be detrimental in the process of collective bargaining. Moreover, this law was not touching all workers (Lichtenstein 235). Those working for the government and it State Corporation as well as those in the agricultural sector were not covered in that act. By ignoring these groups, the labor questions at hand were not answered well. However, it was the law that made possible the formation of others which would later ensure even those workers not covered by Wagner Act was protected using other laws.
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In conclusion, Wagner Act helped to solve various labor issues which affected America before it was enacted. Furthermore, it became crucial in the future as it formed the basis of which the private sector would be regulated by the federal government to ensure that employees were protected and accorded their rights, such as sustainable salaries and conducive working environment. Wagner Act helped to lower the working conditions as well as helped in raising the salaries and wages. The rampant strikes which were witnessed before enactment of the act in the private sector were reduced. It was a result of improved working conditions because of the well-negotiated deals within the private sector in the USA.