Labor disputes and disagreements date back centuries, with some of the bloodier strikes and rallies responsible for giving us the employment rights that we have today.
In most industries, all of the hard work done by past generations has resulted in amenable working conditions and employee rights. 8-hour work days, the right to unionize and collectively bargain, minimum wage, and compensation laws, the existence of weekend breaks, child labor laws, and laws against discrimination in the workplace: these are just a few of the things that we have today because of past labor disputes.
Even in modern times, though, some industries and the workers involved in them are still forced to work in conditions that deny many of the rights listed above. Just last year, Apple was in the news for the poor working conditions at the factories in charge of iPhone manufacturing. Reports found that workers in those factories were working excessive shifts, working in facilities that lacked necessary health and safety features, not receiving minimum wage pay rates and more. Similar issues exist in many sectors of the manufacturing industry.
A Brief History of Labor Disputes
The good news with modern labor disputes and unionized strikes is that they don’t tend to turn bloody. Some of the biggest and most important labor disputes in history were major tragedies, though.
For instance, the Haymarket Affair of 1886 essentially turned Chicago into a battleground between police and protesters, as laborers tried to get employers to adhere to the state law mandating 8-hour work days. Ultimately, 11 people—7 policemen and 4 protesters—were killed during the protest.
In addition, several of the activists who had led the protest were later sentenced to death and executed for their roles in organizing the rally. Luckily, though, memories of the Haymarket Affair lingered, and the 8-hour work day became standard practice in many industries and workplaces.
Another vicious dispute between workers and their employees took place in 1913 and 1914 in southern Colorado. Many miners across the state went on strike against their various employers, protesting low wages and unsafe working conditions—issues that remain problematic in the mining and manufacturing industries to this day.
The strike lasted over a year and slowly escalated, starting with the mining companies evicting workers from company housing. The conflict eventually exploded into what is known today as the Ludlow Massacre, an all-out war between the miners, a militia of local law enforcement, and the National Guard. When the dust settled, between 60 and 200 people had been killed.
(You can read more about tragic labor disputes at Mental Floss.)
The Rise of Labor Unions
The most recent “deadly labor dispute” discussed in the Mental Floss article linked above took place in 1934. However, while lethal strikes and labor union rallies have become a very, very rare thing in modern times, that fact is hardly due to the universality of safe working conditions.
Apple’s recent troubles with poor work conditions and long shifts at iPhone factories show that the manufacturing industry is still no shining beacon for workers’ rights.
So how can manufacturing companies create better working environments to avoid labor disputes in the future? In China, it seems like the main answer is improved compensation. China is one of the biggest manufacturing countries in the world, holding down about a quarter of the overall market.
However, according to World Finance, China’s factories are experiencing falling output, largely because workers are demanding higher wages and other benefits like insurance policies, severance pay, and reasonable work hours. The growth of labor unions in the country has even convinced numerous foreign manufacturers to take their business elsewhere.
Therein lay a major problem: many companies would rather move their manufacturing operations than make conditions more amenable for workers.
Preventing Labor Disputes with Document Management Software
There is another option for improving factory conditions and office environments: adopting document management software. At eFileCabinet, manufacturers have praised our DMS for helping them to become more efficient, employee-friendly businesses.
By giving office employees and factory or warehouse workers alike easy digitized access to company files (invoices, inventory documents, billing statements, permits, etc.), document management software can make it easier for everyone to become more efficient.
The results are shorter work days, happier employees, and satisfied managers.
Document management software also gives manufacturing companies an easy way to keep track of payroll information, personnel document, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) logs of work-related injuries or illnesses, and more.
Reviewing these documents can give both internal managers and external auditors a good sense of whether or not the company in question is providing a safe workplace, adhering to minimum wage laws, and complying with other regulations and standards.
Looking for a document management system to implement at your manufacturing company?