Weekly Summary

| January 16, 2016

Weekly Summary
Order Description
1)Present a report summarizing what you have learned as a result of the week’s activities and 2)what lessons you feel will be valuable for you either presently or in the future. It is helpful but not required to add whatever personal notes and other comments you wish. Unless in grossly improper form, no points will be deducted for any criticism directed at the instructor. It is a useful tool to shape further interaction and course work.
Remember, there are two parts to this assignment. You need to include both parts to get full credit.
Chapter 24 and 25 we use: Miller, R. L. (2014). Business Law Today. Texas: South Western Cengage Learning.
SILVER NUGGET–WEEK 3

So much of business law can be understood by examining business law from the perspective of other social science disciplines. The relationship of capital and labor in this country is one of the best examples of that observation. The key here is to look at history. Alone among the industrial democracies of the world, the American labor movement never coalesced into what is called, in other countries, the “Labor” party. Why did history play itself out in this way?

Perhaps the easiest comparison is with Great Britain. Since the time of, at least, King George I–the grandfather of the king on the British throne at the time of the American Revolution–in the early 1700s until the first few decades of the 1900s, Great Britain had a two-party system. While the names changed, by the mid 1800s, it was the Liberal Party battling the Conservative Party for control of the British House of Commons. The politics of the Liberal party would approximate much of what we associate with the American Democratic Party today. Conversely, the politics of the Conservative Party would approximate much of what we associate with the American Republican Party today.

The stability of that two-party system came under stress beginning in the late 1800s. The late 1800s represented the mid-point of the later Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. The plight of the average worker began to become more acute by that time and there were no viable options for such individuals–who included men, women and children. Working conditions were generally deplorable–hours were long, the pay very low and there was very little concern for worker safety. These factors, combined with the lack of a social safety net, galvanized the working class into organizing so as to improve their lot in life.

When attempts to obtain redress through the existing political parties failed utterly, the workers’ movement organized a new political party, the “Labor” party. While at first the Labor Party struggled to get representation in the House of Commons, eventually it was so successful that it supplanted the Liberal Party as one of the two “major” political parties in Great Britain. One of the most-recognized recent British Prime Ministers (a Prime Minister is the leader of the party that, in general, has the most seats in the House of Commons), Tony Blair, was a member of the Labor Party. If he is no longer familiar, he is featured in the 2006 movie, The Queen, starring Helen MIrren as Queen Elizabeth II.

The politics of the Labor Party are best analogized to the labor wing of the Democratic Party here in the United States. But the power of labor unions in Great Britain, even acknowledging the curbs on union power enacted during the time that Margaret Thatcher was British Prime Minister (she served in that role in a time roughly analogous to the Ronald Reagan Administration in the United States–and whose politics were very similar), is greater than that in the United States.

So now, let’s look back in American history. The mid-to-late 1800s in the United States coincided with the American Industrial Revolution, when the country transformed itself from an agricultural and small business economy to an economy dominated by large industrial concerns. As in Great Britain, it was no fun to be a worker in a manufacturing facility or a mine during this time. Working conditions were very similar to those in Great Britain–hours were long, the pay very low and there was very little concern for worker safety. Like in Great Britain, there was no social safety net. These conditions did lead to the formation of labor unions, some more effective in ameliorating the relative state of the worker than others.

But why was there no successful “Labor” party as in Great Britain? I will end this Silver Nugget with my top three reasons as to why the United States has two political parties, but not one in which the interests of labor predominate–much to the displeasure of the labor movement.

First, unlike Great Britain, the American worker had, until the end of the 1800s, a safety valve–the frontier. If things were intolerable in one location, Americans could simply pack up and move. While, in theory, such an option–sort of labor free agency–should have forced management to improve working conditions, any labor migration was more than offset by the flood of immigrants from Europe during that period and then later the influx of African-Americans from the South to more industrialized areas of the country. Hiring workers from those groups would not lead, in the short run, to more labor reform because recent immigrants and African-Americans had no political clout whatsoever.

Second, in the early 1900s, a new political party, the Progressive Party arose. Its platform included many of the labor reform measures eventually enacted into law into the 1930s. At one point, the party seemed viable on the national stage. In the 1912 presidential election, the Progressive Party candidate, former President Theodore Roosevelt, outpolled the incumbent Republican President, William Howard Taft, in both popular and electoral votes. Yet, the Progressive Party was not a sustaining and sustainable “Labor” party. First, it had a very short shelf life, disappearing from the political landscape by 1916. Second, the Progressive Party had very few workers in its ranks. The members of the Progressive Party were mainly drawn from the upper-middle and upper classes dissatisfied with the corruption they saw in the Democratic Party and from the social prejudices and lack of social conscience endemic in the Republican Party. So even if the Progressive Party had become a viable third party (roughly equivalent to the Liberal Democratic Party in Great Britain today), it is doubtful that it would have transformed itself into an American “Labor” party.

Finally, and most important in my mind, the mindset of American workers did not follow along the lines of their European counterparts. While the America of the early 1900s was by no means classless and while systemic prejudice still existed against whole groups of people, the promise of attaining the “American Dream” still motivated American workers more than socialist and then Communist manifestos. In a sense, there was no need for a “Labor” party populated by persons who would live out their whole lives as workers because the American workforce was theoretically dynamic. A person could be a worker today and a capitalist tomorrow.

So when we read about the ebb and flow of labor-managment relations in this country, we have to remember that there is a certain ambivalence that exists as an undercurrent in this relationship. Since America still provides the possibility of moving “upward” (however that is defined), there is no class stratification that is the precursor in some countries to class warfare. There can be no doubt that, in this way at least, the United States is certainly distinguishable from its European colleagues.

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