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7 Surprising Facts About the History of Workers’ Rights

Workers’ rights have been one of the oldest debated topics in the history of the world, with many twists and turns throughout the years. It is even still contested to this day in many countries, with several cases argued in higher judicial authorities of a country to establish precedents and reclaim workers’ rights. These are some surprising facts about the history of workers’ rights. 

Child Labor Isn’t Modern

When people hear the words ‘child labor,’ they think of major phone companies and clothing brands operating sweatshops in poor countries in this day and age. Yet, the history of this problem goes back to much longer before that. Child labor has been around since the 19th and 20th centuries, though the size of companies was much different by then. The children ––aged from 5 to 14 years in most cases –– worked mostly in agriculture, factories, and home-based assembly businesses. And they all came from poorer families. While things have improved over the years due to civil laws and lawsuits, child labor still exists in many places over the world, though its percentage has dropped over time.


Workers’ Compensation Is Ancient

Most people believe that workman’s comp is a relatively new feature of industrialized societies, which is not true. While it has significantly changed over the years, historians believe that workers’ compensations existed thousands of years ago, particularly dating to 2500 B.C. under King Ur-Nammu of Sumeria. As you can see if you click here, workers’ compensation cases have changed over the years and become more complicated. Yes, any worker can sue their company if they suffered an injury in the workplace, and the company refused to pay them the worker’s comp, but it can get messy in those incidents. In such cases, the worker needs to enlist the help of professional lawyers who handle these cases regularly. 


The Word ‘Strike’ Dates Back to the 1700s

You’ve probably heard it on more than one occasion when workers of a certain factory or industry cease to work, and it’s referred to as a strike in such cases. The origin of this word dates back to 1768 when English sailors, angered by wage cuts, expressed their rage by protesting and ‘striking’ the sails of the ships anchored in the Port of London. This is how we came to use the word to express labor troubles. 


The Disparity between Men and Women’s Wages Still Exists 

A lot of people don’t know it, but the historical disparity between men and women’s wages that have been around throughout the ages still exists today. Studies show that women earn around 81% of what their male counterparts make for doing the same job. This struggle is an ongoing one and many women fight to earn equal pay, but for now, despite certain improvements, the wage gap between genders is still a reality. 


“Yes We Can” Is Older than 2008

The world came to know the ‘yes we can’ slogan as a part of former President Obama’s campaign back in 2008, but it actually dates back to an older year as a part of a labor struggle. The term was originally in Spanish, “Si Se Puede,” and it was created by UFW’s cofounder Dolores Huerta in 1972 during the hunger strike that Cesar Chavez went on for weeks.


Some Countries Have It Better in Terms of Workers’ Rights

Scandinavian countries are considered to be the world’s most successful when it comes to workers’ rights, more so than any nation on the planet. Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland have led the world in that department for years. A study from 2012 showed that over 80% of Iceland’s workers belong to a union, which is triple or double the number of many other countries, including first-world ones. 


Wage Gap between College Graduates and Non-Graduates Has Increased in the US

In the past, the wage gap between those with college degrees and others with only a high school diploma has significantly increased over the years in the US. Studies show that those with a degree have a chance to make thousands of dollars more than those without one.

Workers’ rights will always be contested, and there will always be those who try to ensure that laborers get what they deserve and those who try to stop that from happening. Things did get better over the years with the introduction of civil laws and the evolution of society, but there is still much to be done. There is no telling how labor rights will be in another five decades, but the one thing that is for sure is that many won’t stop fighting to improve workers’ conditions.

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