72 Solidarity Forever 1838 LABOR UNIONS are almost as old as factories. One of the first, organized by craft workers, was the London Working Men's Association, which held its first national convention in August 1838. The rank and file passed a People's Charter, promoting voting rights for unlanded workers. Though the British Parliament rejected the Charter, it eventually acted on some of its ideas, sparing England the violent class warfare that gripped Paris, Rome, Vienna and Berlin in 1848. In time the Chartists were weakened by arrests and internal power struggles, but not before they had influenced a generation of immigrant English workers. Children from Chartist homes later became important players in the U.S. labor movement, most notably cigarmaker Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor.
The changes unions have brought--the eight-hour workday, reforms in occupational safety, the minimum wage, child labor laws--have not come without pain, violence and dissent. But cries of "Solidarity" are still heard around the world.