Magna Carta: The First Collective Bargaining Agreement

The Magna Carta may actually have been the first union contract. The Magna Carta established that the King needed certain permissions to raise taxes. In effect the distribution of wealth, or redistribution wealth began in 1215 with “Great Document.” The nobles who engaged in collective bargaining with King John may just have been the first union.

How are the principles of what these nobles did with King John different from what the working class today asks from their employers? Why should collective bargaining be eliminated or limited as we have seen several states seek to do?

Recorded history has one constant theme: class struggle. The “American Century,” the 20th Century was in many ways dominated by an increase in worker’s rights. The struggles of employees at automobile plants, garment factories and coal mines were epitomized in such movies as Norma Rae. During this time the standard of living and real wealth for United States citizens increased. Today the headlines are made by politicians such as Scott Walker who seek to remove worker rights from the workplace. Walker cites economic concerns such as balanced budgets and competitive economies. Workers’ rights, human rights, versus economics, that is the difference between political parties today.

We see this in the Republican debates where the audience cheered that those without insurance should just be left to die, where when Ron Paul was asked what to do about the problem he just shrugged his shoulders.    

Would politicians today just let people die? The point is all humans have rights; chief among them is the right to life, liberty, and happiness. It is very hard to act on these rights when one is not healthy. Unions brought health care to many who would otherwise not have it. Now we see one economic class trying to eliminate these rights from a different economic class. That is the class struggle we are now in as the wealthy like the Koch Brothers seek to disempower us. History demonstrates a need for unions. As union strength has dissipated America’s wealth gap has increased while our opportunity for advancement and living standards have at best stagnated. Is this any coincidence? The need for unions is as strong now as it was in 1215.


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