Unions were present in the United States as early as the 19th century. They were sparse and not as powerful as the unions of today. In the beginning only about 2% of the workforce was unionized as opposed to the over 16 million people now (www.spartacus.schoolnet). The concept of unionism is European and was present there for many generations before our country was founded. The practice came about when farmers were constantly taken advantage of as far as wages, payment of goods and land ownership (www.spartacus.schoolnet).
Before unionism came to power, there was little regulation to protect workers from their employers regarding working conditions and compensation (www.spartacus.schoolnet). It was very common for workers to work long hours in strenuous conditions for little pay. "Hourly"-type workers had little power and were often silenced by their employers out of fear of losing their job. Big business had become so powerful and monopolizing that they had even created their .
own monetary systems, meanwhile, the government usually looked the other way (www.teamster.org).
An example of these abuses includes the coal miners in the Eastern part of the United States in the early 1900's (www.spartacus.schoolnet). Coal was a huge industry and employed many unskilled, uneducated workers. A company would move into a rural community, open their own stores and employ most of the small town. Eventually, they started paying the workers with their own form of currency, which was only redeemable at the company-owned stores. Workers couldn't protest without the risk of losing their jobs, which during the Great Depression would be devastating (www.spartacus.schoolnet). Since these large coal companies contributed far more financially then the tradesman ever could politically, the government usually looked the other way (www.spartacus.schoolnet). .
Unionism started becoming popular in America around 1875 when Samuel Gompers, a British immigrant, observed the passionate feelings of New York cigar workers (www.