Bargaining at the Council of Jerusalem

By: Jim Pruitt



During the nineteenth century the American labor movement was characterized by fluctuations largely influenced by the business cycles. Recessions in the 1800s – often called “panics” by historians - reduced union membership. Growth in the economy caused upswings in union membership. By the beginning of the twentieth century, this formative stage of the American labor movement concluded and a relatively more stable era of durable unions was inaugurated. One of its key features was the collective bargaining agreement reducing the terms of employment at a firm to a written agreement between management and labor.

The written agreement, as the eminent labor historian John Commons and his associates wrote, “led the way from an industrial system which alternately was either despotism or anarchy to a constitutional form of government in industry.”[1]

Over the next century collective bargaining became institutionalized within the system of American employment relations.[2] Thousands of labor agreements are bargained each year governing the workplaces of millions of American workers. At its core, collective bargaining is an attempt to reach consensus on important matters through compromise, meeting each side’s interests and trade-offs. 

[1] John R. Commons, David Saposs, Helen Sumner E.B. Mittleman, H.E. Hoagland, John B. Andrews, Selig Perlman History of Labour in the United States, Volume II (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1918, 1946) 520.

[2] The decline of unions in the private sector in the last generation which is not the subject of this article is a threat to the institution of collective bargaining.

 Read Pruitt's full article at:Pruitt-Bargaining_at_the_Council_of_Jerusalem.pdf