The Labor Movement – Concept, characteristics and consequences

We explain what the labor movement is, what its origin and characteristics are. Also, its consequences, achievements and ideologies.

Labor movement
When there was no labor law, employers decided on wages.

What is the labor movement?

The labor movement is a social and political phenomenon that has its origins in England in the 18th century. The main objective of this phenomenon was to improve the well-being of workers and arose from the Industrial Revolution and the changes that it brought with it.

The first stage of industrialization was characterized by full freedom on the part of employers (a sector called the “bourgeoisie”) over the working conditions of their workers (a sector called the “proletariat”). In a context where labor legislation did not exist, it was the employers who decided on wages or the extension of the workers’ working hours.

Origin of the labor movement

Labor movement
The working hours were excessive and neither children nor women were excluded.

The origin of the social movement responds to a series of conditions that led the workers to become “class consciousness” and group together to claim a series of improvements. Some of the reasons that led to the formation of the labor movement have to do with:

  • Concentration. The proletarian class was concentrated in the industrial centers, which allowed them to maintain contacts with each other.
  • Terrible working conditions. The working hours were excessive and neither children nor women were excluded.
  • Low salaries. In addition to extreme hours, the workers had wages that did not even allow them to cover their basic needs.
  • Overcrowding The workers lived in the suburbs in crowded and unsanitary conditions, where they were infected with epidemics and diseases of all kinds.

To this malaise that the workers were going through the impact of the French Revolution was added to it, in which values ​​such as democracy, politics and solidarity fostered the fight for Human Rights.

In this context, workers from various fields (such as old artisans or English weavers) They were organized in brotherhoods taking as a model the medieval guilds. Thus it was that the workers began to help each other and to demand job improvements and, over time, began to question industrialization.

The first to repudiate economic conditions were the Luddites, a trade union movement that emerged in 19th century Britain and fiercely opposed the incorporation of machinery into textile production processes.

Their rejection led them to burn machinery and this attitude began to be imitated by rural workers. This process was the beginning of the different movements that began to organize no longer against the machinery but against the employers, due to the working conditions that they imposed on the workers.

Characteristics of the labor movement

Some of the characteristics that identify the labor movement are the following:

  • Two fights. The labor movement struggled mainly to achieve two issues:
    • Better working conditions. Improvements include, for example, better wages, reduced working hours, and security.
    • Political rights. Like freedom of expression, vote and association.
  • Constant dialogue. The labor movement was characterized by the vast amount of debates and dialogues that it fostered indoors.
  • Negotiation. Negotiation was the mechanism they used to achieve their objectives.
  • Trade unions. Workers were grouped into unions, for example, by branch or by company. Those who make up these groups, even today, are known as trade unionists.
  • Demonstrations and strikes. At the time of claim, rebellion, strikes, demonstrations and other public events were commonplace within the labor movement.
  • Teamwork. One of the qualities that most characterized the social movement was the idea that, to achieve something, you worked as a team. When raising a claim or improvement, it was always done collectively, not individually.

Consequences of the labor movement

Labor movement
Some demands on the part of the unions were exaggerated for their employers.

Beyond the achievements that the struggle of the labor movement had on a day-to-day basis, the struggle and rebellion of the workers brought some problems and clashes with certain social sectors.

Workers were victims of oppression by their employers, not only because of their actions but also because of their ideologies. They also received the rejection of a good part of society, for appealing to not very peaceful mechanisms when fighting for their claims, in addition to the repression by the State security forces.

Some demands by the unions were exaggerated for their employers, which also led to massive layoffs.

Achievements of the labor movement

Some of the achievements of the workers’ struggle were reflected in labor improvements, such as the following:

  • Limitation of working hours.
  • Prohibition of child labor.
  • The approval of laws that guarantee safety in factories.
  • The prohibition of women and adolescents working in mines.
  • The emergence of social security systems.

Ideologies of the labor movement

Labor movement - Karl Marx
Scientific socialism takes the ideas and theories of Karl Marx.

As a result of the Industrial Revolution and the formation of the labor movement, some ideologies arose that addressed the inequalities and injustices typical of capitalist society, such as the following:

  • Utopian socialism. The thinkers who identified with it proposed an economic system that did not promote the same levels of injustice and inequality that characterized capitalism. They called it “utopian” because they disbelieved in the existence of such a system. Some of the referents of this ideological current are Henry de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier and Robert Owen.
  • Babuvism. This ideological current emerged in France and was made up of referents who supported “the Republic of equals.” Its name is due to the surname of its founder, Gracchus Babeuf. In addition to their struggle for a Republic of equals, they took measures to improve the situation of the poorest social sectors.
  • Anarchism. Like socialism, this ideological current states that capitalism must be eradicated. The difference with socialism lies in the ways of achieving this elimination: anarchists reject any kind of authority.
  • Marxism or scientific socialism. This current is made up of those who take the ideas and theories of Karl Marx.