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30 victories for workers’ rights won by organized labor over the years

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Stacker outlines 30 of the most consequential victories that unions fought for in the name of workers' rights. You'll learn about the milestones unions have achieved and the circumstances that made those victories worth fighting for.
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30 victories for workers’ rights won by organized labor over the years

Today, American workers have a host of rights and recourses should their workplace be hostile or harmful. While the modern labor movement works to continue to improve the working conditions for all, with big efforts around a fair minimum wage and end of employer wage theft, the movement has a history rich with fights and wins. It put an end to child labor, 10-to-16 hour workdays, and unsafe working conditions. 

Stacker compiled a list of 30 of the most consequential victories that unions fought for in the name of workers’ rights. The list includes information about the milestones unions achieved and the circumstances that made those victories worth fighting for.

Today, every wage-earning American owes a debt of gratitude to organized labor for the 40-hour workweek, minimum wage (such as it is), anti-discrimination laws, and other basic protections. Far from basic, those protections were, until fairly recently, pipe dreams to the millions of American men, women, and children who labored endlessly in dreadful conditions for poverty wages.

The gratitude is owed mostly to the unions those nameless and disposable workers organized, which they did under the threat of being fired, harassed, evicted from company homes, beaten, jailed, and, in many cases, killed. In 1886, for example, over 200,000 railroad workers went on strike to protest an unjust firing. In 1894, over 250,000 workers walked out of the Pullman Palace Car Company factories to protest 12-hour workdays and wage cuts. 

The 2018 Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME established that public-sector workers who are protected by unions—of which there are five times as many as private workers—but don’t wish to join, no longer have to pay fees on behalf of the union’s collective bargaining. This dealt a blow to public-sector unions, though it didn’t result in the mass exodus union detractors had hoped for. Overall union membership in the U.S. in 2020 was at 10.8%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While that’s a historical low rate, some industries—like digital media, museums, and non-profits—are making inroads with new unions.

Over the decades, there have been far more losses than victories, but the victories the labor movement did achieve made earning a living in the United States a much more equitable, fair, safe, and profitable proposition. These wins show what is possible for the modern labor movement. Keep reading to explore 30 hard-fought victories that America’s working class won in our names.

You may also like: The most unionized states

Jorge Royan // Wikimedia Commons

1794: Shoemakers organize America’s first union

The rise of so-called journeymen societies in 1794 led to the creation of the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers of Philadelphia, which worked to protect the wages of shoemakers, who toiled in a large and profitable industry. The society was the first true union and can be considered the genesis of the American labor movement. The moment is also significant because it was the first time tradespeople organized for protection against “scabs,” workers willing to undermine demands for better pay by agreeing to work for cheaper wages—a dynamic that would remain a central theme throughout the entire history of the labor movement.

Southworth & Hawes // Wikimedia Commons

1842: Commonwealth v. Hunt legalizes unions

A court in 1806 ruled against the shoemakers and declared the act of organizing for higher wages to be a criminal conspiracy. More than three decades later in 1842, a high court in Massachusetts overturned that precedent in Commonwealth v. Hunt, which declared that workers do, in fact, have a right to organize and strike.

[Pictured: 19th chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Lemuel Shaw, who served from Aug. 30, 1830–Aug. 21, 1860.]

 

stephen boisvert // Flickr

1866: National Labor Union is created

The end of slavery emboldened laborers around the country to capitalize on the national sentiment and pursue better conditions for themselves. A year after the Civil War, the formation of the National Labor Union represented the first nationally organized workers’ rights group. The organization’s efforts went a long way to raising awareness, but the group dissolved in 1873 and soon after, a series of violent strikes and successful corporate anti-labor campaigns compelled much of America to sour on the movement.

Wikimedia Commons

1882: The first Labor Day Parade marks a movement

On Sept. 5, 1882, New York City hosted the country’s first Labor Day Parade; around 10,000 workers marched in what is now an annual event, and the holiday was soon moved to the first Monday in September, just as it is celebrated today. Although a parade, of course, didn’t directly improve working conditions, the moment signified a psychological victory for labor and indicated a shift in public opinion that would ultimately lead to the rise of the progressive era in the 20th century.

Wikimedia Commons

1898: Erdman Act briefly ends union blacklists

In the second half of the 19th century, several major labor groups like the American Federation of Labor emerged as major strikers and often-brutal government and corporate reprisals created a nearly constant state of unrest. Much of that unrest was concentrated around railroad work, most notably, the Pullman Strike of 1894.

In an effort to quell tensions, the federal government passed the Erdman Act, which provided workers with arbitration and mediation options, while banning railroad companies from firing or refusing to hire workers for joining a union, a common intimidation tactic known as yellow-dog contracts. It would eventually lead to the more comprehensive Railway Labor Act of 1926, but not before the Supreme Court struck down the Erdman Act’s key provisions 10 years later in 1908.

Kheel Center // Flickr

1909: The Uprising of the 20,000 demands change

In 1909, the women’s rights movement and the labor movement converged with the Uprising of the 20,000, a strike launched by sweatshop laborers known as shirtwaist workers, who were mostly young, immigrant women. The strikers protested low wages, long hours, and appalling conditions, especially the frequent and intentional locking of doors and fire escapes to prevent workers from leaving or even from taking breaks. The uprising secured the support of the powerful and well-heeled Women’s Trade Union League, and by 1910, most of the protestor’s employers agreed to sign union contracts. 

Keystone // Getty Images

1911: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire exposes conditions

On March 25, 1911, the deadliest industrial disaster in New York City history changed the course of the labor movement when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 146 sweatshop workers, mostly women. Although the owners and management staff escaped unharmed, the workers found themselves in a death trap of locked doors, blocked fire escapes, and highly flammable material, like the kind the 1909 protestors had warned about. Although the fire itself, of course, was hardly a victory for labor, the death of the workers was not in vain—it galvanized the previously scattered and frequently infighting labor movement to unify, and stoked public outrage and demand for change.

Bain News Service // Wikimedia Commons

1913: The Department of Labor is formed

On March 4, 1913, the efforts of generations of labor activists were realized, at least in part, when President William Howard Taft signed a law creating the U.S. Department of Labor. The labor movement now had representation in a Cabinet-level agency.

Lewis Wickes Hine // Wikimedia Commons

1916: Keating-Owen Act briefly curtails child labor

By the turn of the 20th century, 2 million children were laboring on farms, on city streets, and in mills, mines, factories, and stores. The work of social reformers and a nationwide campaign by National Child Labor Committee photographer Lewis W. Hine to chronicle and publicize the abuses led to calls for reform. In 1916, the Keating-Owen Act limited the number of hours children could work and prohibited interstate sale of merchandise produced by child labor, but the Supreme Court ruled the act unconstitutional just nine months later.

Kinograms // Wikimedia Commons

1921: The Battle of Blair Mountain pits miners against the police

The disparaging term “redneck” can be traced to 1921 when 10,000 West Virginia coal miners rose up against mining companies, managers, and their allies in government after decades of abuses in what was the largest uprising in labor history and the most significant armed insurrection since the Civil War. Tying red bandanas around their necks in a show of unity, the miners faced off against thousands of heavily armed company agents, scab workers, law enforcement officers, and military personnel who confronted the workers with heavy machine guns and, eventually, the only aerial bombardment of American civilians in U.S. history.

At least 100 people died and 1 million rounds of ammunition were fired before the rebellion was put down, but the efforts of the miners would lead to some immediate improvement in conditions and, more importantly, a larger voice during FDR’s future New Deal negotiations.

Jack Delano // Wikimedia Commons

1925: Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is formed

Shortly after the Civil War, George Pullman revolutionized travel with luxurious railroad sleeping cars, each of which came with a personal attendant called a Pullman Car porter. Consisting entirely of black men—originally recently freed slaves—the position was considered prestigious in the African American community, but the reality was grueling work, long hours, low pay, and daily indignities and mistreatment. In 1925, after 12 years of struggle, the Pullman Porters formed their own union, becoming the first black labor union in history to force a powerful corporation to the negotiating table, marking a triumph of both labor rights and civil rights.

Andrew J. Russell // Wikimedia Commons

1926: The Railway Labor Act is passed

After decades of widespread, public, and often violent labor strikes—which were commonly put down by force with the aid of government troops—President Calvin Coolidge compelled unions and railroad bosses to agree on a different means of conflict resolution. In 1926, the Railway Labor Act substituted strikes for bargaining, mediation, and arbitration, and gave both unions and railroad companies the opportunity and responsibility to negotiate before resorting to strikes. It was the first federal law that guaranteed workers the right to organize, unionize, and choose their own leaders without company interference.

Wikimedia Commons

1931: Davis-Bacon Act regulates wages

By 1931, the Great Depression was raging; the masses were desperate for work and employers found it easy to offer take-it-or-leave-it wage ultimatums. The Davis-Bacon Act required private contractors on all significant public-works construction projects to pay workers the “prevailing wage.” Those wages generally corresponded with union wages, and the standard now covers one in five construction projects and one in four construction workers at any given time.

Kheel Center // Flickr

1932: Norris-LaGuardia Act eliminates injunctions

In 1932, labor made major gains when the Norris-LaGuardia Act prevented federal courts from issuing injunctions to stop peaceful union strikes and protests, which had long hurt their ability to organize. It also protected workers from being fired for joining a union or from being forced to sign yellow-dog contracts, which demanded a vow not to join a union.

Kheel Center // Flickr

1933: Frances Perkins named secretary of labor

History was made in 1933 when Frances Perkins became the first woman ever to serve in a presidential Cabinet position—but the milestone was literally forged in fire. Twenty-two years earlier, Perkins was in New York City, having tea in Washington Square, when sirens and growing commotion compelled her to join a gathering crowd outside the towering inferno of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, where she watched helplessly as 47 workers, mostly young women, made the agonizing choice to jump to their deaths instead of burning alive. She later called the catastrophe “the day the New Deal was born.”

The Library of Congress // Flickr

1933: The labor movement has one of its own in Washington

Frances Perkins is a towering figure in American labor, having dedicated her life and career to the common worker and the downtrodden in general. When FDR asked Perkins to join his Cabinet, the woman who would become the principal architect of the New Deal made it clear that she would only agree if Roosevelt backed her priorities, which the president promised he would. Those priorities, according to the Frances Perkins Center, were an amalgamation of the ideals the labor movement had pursued for generations: “a 40-hour work week, a minimum wage, unemployment compensation, worker’s compensation, abolition of child labor, direct federal aid to the states for unemployment relief, Social Security, a revitalized federal employment service, and universal health insurance.”

Kheel Center // Flickr

1935: The National Labor Relations Act becomes law

The National Labor Relations Act legitimized, enfranchised, and vindicated the workers’ rights movement more than any provision that had come before. The culmination of decades of union struggle, the act guaranteed the rights of private-sector workers to unionize, engage in collective bargaining for higher wages and better conditions, and, if necessary, to strike. It remains the foundation of modern American labor law.

Sheldon Dick // Getty Images

1937: Auto workers win GM sit-down strike

At 8 p.m. on the night before Christmas Eve in 1936, autoworkers in Flint, Mich., took over one—and later, several—major GM factories, locking themselves in, refusing to work, and bringing production to a standstill. The company tried to freeze and starve them out, and the courts deemed the strike illegal, but the workers refused to budge. The governor also refused to send in the National Guard. In February 1937, after 44 days of dramatic stalemate, GM—arguably the most powerful and politically influential company in the world—capitulated to most of the workers’ demands, which included a fair minimum wage scale, protections against injury for assembly line workers, a grievance system, and the recognition of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.

Social Security Online // Wikimedia Commons

1938: FDR signs Fair Labor Standards Act

The crowning achievement of the American union movement came in 1938 with the signing of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which guaranteed a minimum wage, an eight-hour workday, a 40-hour workweek, and time-and-a-half overtime. It also mandated that minors under 18 be barred from certain hazardous work and prevented children under 16 from working in mines or manufacturing, or in any job during school hours. The act ushered American labor into the modern era, gave 700,000 Americans an immediate raise, and continues to serve as the basic foundation of workers’ rights and protections in the United States.

National Musuem of the U.S. Navy // Wikimedia Commons

1941: FDR Forms Fair Employment Practice Commmission

In 1941, the Fair Employment Practice Commission (FEPC) was assembled to enforce an executive order from President Roosevelt that barred employment discrimination based on race, national origin, color, or creed in defense or government industries that received federal funding. FEPC served as the teeth of the executive order, as the commission was authorized to investigate complaints of discrimination and take action against offending companies or organizations.

Abbie Rowe // Wikimedia Commons

1962: Kennedy signs Executive Order 10988

On Jan. 17, 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order that for the first time gave federal employees the right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. Although private-sector employees had enjoyed these basic rights for decades, the moment was a milestone for federal workers.

The U.S. National Archives // Flickr

1963: Kennedy signs the Equal Pay Act

The women’s rights movement and the labor movement ran parallel to each other and often intertwined from the very beginning. In 1963, the two movements achieved a mutual milestone when JFK signed the Equal Pay Act. An amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Equal Pay Act banned pay disparity for equal work based on gender.

Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office (WHPO) // Wikimedia Commons

1964: Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act

Although the 1964 Civil Rights Act mandated sweeping social reforms that were by no means limited to labor, union-backed workers’ rights campaigns were central to the civil rights movement—Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis while supporting a strike by sanitation workers. The landmark civil rights legislation, in part, banned workplace discrimination based on race, gender, religion, color, or national origin.

Kheel Center // Flickr

1967: Johnson signs the Age Discrimination in Employment Act

Organized labor continued its run of success in 1967 with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. It prevented hiring discrimination based on age and protected workers over 40 or those collecting age-related federal benefits from termination or forced retirement. The act basically extended to older workers the rights associated with the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The U.S. National Archives // Flickr

1970: Nixon signs the Occupational Safety and Health Act

From black lung and mine collapses to farming accidents and factory fires, American workers were driven to unionize first and foremost for their own safety, health, and wellbeing, which were often afterthoughts for the companies that used their labor. The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) required employers to protect their workers from toxic substances, mechanical dangers, unsanitary conditions, excessive heat and cold, and other known physical hazards. The legislation created OSHA to inspect, investigate, and enforce the measure.

The U.S. National Archives

1974: Ford signs the Employee Retirement and Security Income Act

A central thesis of the workers’ rights movement is that a lifetime of labor should guarantee a stable retirement. In 1974, the Employee Retirement and Security Income Act protected workers enrolled in private-industry pension plans by setting minimum standards for how those plans are managed. The legislation required companies to disclose information about the plans to their employees and also put fiduciary responsibility on the people or organizations in charge of their assets.

Canva

1988: Congress passes the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act

Union workers long lived with the knowledge that a decision could be made to close their auto plant or coal mine without them knowing that their next paycheck would be their last. In 1988, however, Congress signed the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act without President Ronald Reagan’s signature. The act required most companies with more than 100 workers to give 60-days advance written notice if mass layoffs or plant closings were imminent.

Executive Office of the President of the United States // Wikimedia Commons

1990: Bush signs the Americans With Disabilities Act

The Americans With Disabilities Act amended the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include workers with disabilities. It also required employers to make reasonable accommodations in terms of accessibility and other special needs.

Canva

1993: Clinton signs the Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act required employers to allow their workers to take off 12 job-protected workweeks in a year for things like the birth or adoption of a child, a serious illness, or to care for a seriously ill child or spouse. There are also extended considerations involving military families. Unlike in most wealthy Western countries, however, the act does not mandate paid maternity or paternity leave, which means the time off is guaranteed, but uncompensated.

Chuck Kennedy // Official White House Photo

2009: Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

The 2009 amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, was so-named for the plaintiff in a Supreme Court case that spurred the legislation. Prior to 2009, the mandated 180-day statute of limitations for a worker to file an equal-pay lawsuit began when the employer made the initial discriminatory pay decision, meaning that if a woman found out she was being paid less than a man for equal work six months after she agreed to her salary, it was too late for her to file suit. The 2009 legislation reset the statute of limitations with every discriminatory paycheck received.

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How the pandemic e-commerce surge spiked demand for truckers

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Truckinfo.net analyzed how retailers and truckers have adjusted to the evolving needs of consumers as e-commerce dominates the market.  
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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, truckers have faced a series of circulating problems, including driver shortages and difficult working conditions. But the sharp increase in e-commerce in 2020 put a strain like no other on the industry.

In just one year, e-commerce—the buying and selling of products over the internet—surged 43%, the Census Bureau reports, growing from $571.2 billion in 2019 to $815.4 billion in 2020. That surge brought new pressure to the truck driving industry, adding to an already challenging driver shortage.

Truckinfo.net analyzed trends in e-commerce over the past few years and looked at how the spike in online shopping and business has affected the truck driver industry—and how retailers and drivers have adjusted.

Heading into 2023, challenges in the industry likely won’t ease, according to a forecast from Bloomberg Intelligence. Flatbed trucks, for example, are employed heavily for building material transportation, but the housing market has seen a sharp downturn as the Fed raises interest rates. And trucking companies will continue to suffer from supply chain troubles that limit their ability to add tractors to their fleets.

The truck driver shortage will also likely continue to bedevil the industry. The American Trucking Associations in October estimated the 2022 shortage at nearly 78,000 drivers, just shy of the historical record high of more than 81,000 in 2021. The association predicts that number could grow to 160,000 by 2031 if current trends continue.

Read on to learn more about several ways the trucking industry is facing some of its biggest challenges.

Delivery van loaded with cardboard boxes outside of logistics warehouse with open door.

Gorodenkoff // Shutterstock

How e-commerce changed the industry

With many sequestered to their homes during the pandemic, online shopping spiked, with consumers taking advantage of the convenience of items straight to their front doors.

The change created a surge in the need for short-haul truckers, and thus a shortage of long-haul truckers. More time at home and other factors make short-haul routes more attractive, according to a report from the Transportation Department. Long-haul truckers generally drive at least 250 miles for their services, while short-haul drivers often operate within a 150-mile radius, according to hiring site Indeed.

Bob Costello, the chief economist at the American Trucking Associations, told NBC News earlier this year that the average drive for a long-haul trip decreased from 800 to 500 miles in the past 20 years. Part of that change is because retailers that once only built distribution in three to five locations now have warehouses across the country, he said.

Stacked package boxes on pallet inside a truck.

Siwakorn1933 // Shutterstock

What a driver shortage really means

While many adapted to working remotely, truckers maintain an essential role in supplying our most basic needs. Without them, we’d have empty grocery stores, gas shortages, ATMs with no cash available, and medical supply shortages. Chemical shipments to water plants would cease, halting access to potable water, and garbage would litter the streets.

The growth of e-commerce has made the prospect of warehouse positions and short-haul loads with high pay appealing to many truckers, leaving huge gaps to fill in long-haul trucking positions. These short-haul roles are competitive and draw experienced drivers who prioritize higher salaries and the opportunity to do shorter trips to increase time spent at home.

Truckers move about 72% of U.S. freight by weight, according to the American Trucking Associations.

Truck driver in casual clothes driving truck.

Aleksandar Malivuk // Shutterstock

Competition between carrier companies

Large companies are taking full advantage of their budgets to increase pay and incentivize workers by offering sign-on bonuses and higher pay for shorter hauls.

With 1.9 million trucking carriers in the United States alone, the competition has become incredibly steep. The disparity is obvious: With 97.4% of carriers operating fewer than 20 trucks, corporate giants have saturated and overtaken the trucking market with large paychecks and fleets, Zippia.com reports.

Walmart increased competition earlier this year by rolling out increased salaries for their private fleet, with first-year drivers earning up to $110,000, over double the average pay for long-haul drivers, NBC News reports. Walmart employs 12,000 drivers in its fleet, making it the largest private trucking company in the U.S.

Silhouette of a large truck driving on a road at sunrise.

Janice Storch // Shutterstock

The rising costs of employing drivers

Turnover rates in the trucking industry are near record highs, as workers move between carriers, incentivized by higher pay and better hours.

These turnover rates do not necessarily indicate truckers leaving the field; rather, experienced and new truckers alike are taking advantage of the pay raises offered by private fleets, the American Trucking Associations says. These pay raises offer more accessible jobs to workers who have not received a college degree, paving a stable road to a middle-class lifestyle without the cost of a four-year educational program.

The president of the Women in Trucking Association, Ellen Voie, told NBC News that this is a positive for the industry, saying drivers are entitled to better benefits and flexibility due to the difficult nature of their work. Workers joining private fleets are able to enjoy work closer to home and can even acquire stock options at certain companies.

It’s no wonder that workers are taking the cost of their livelihood so seriously; dangerous conditions increased for drivers as they were forced to work long hours in often unsanitary conditions during the national COVID-19 emergency, with 7 out of 10 drivers reporting lower pay and dangerous working conditions in an April 2020 survey conducted by a coalition of national labor unions, Change to Win, the Los Angeles Times reports. These working conditions were combated with trucker strikes, posing a serious threat of disruption to the average civilian’s way of life.

Truck driver behind the wheel wearing a hard hat and safety vest.

DuxX // Shutterstock

Proposed strategies to resolve trucking industry issues in 2023

Lawmakers, employers, and the United States government have flocked to ease the stressors of the essential trucking industry. An October 2022 report by the American Transit Research Institute proposed strategies to combat critical issues. The top strategies involve recruiting younger drivers into the workforce. 

According to the Census Bureau, 30.3% of the trucking industry is composed of workers over the age of 55. Research done by the American Transit Research Institute found that 84% of Gen Z and millennial drivers are incentivized by company culture when it comes to working and staying with a motor carrier. 

In November 2021, the Drive Safe Act was signed into law, which included a national pilot test program allowing 3,000 18- to 20-year-olds to be trained in operating freight commerce across state lines. Due to high insurance costs for young drivers, not all fleets will be able to participate in the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Program.

Several moves by the Biden administration will also target an increase in driver hiring and retention, including a focus on veterans.

This story originally appeared on Truckinfo.net and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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WEF 2023: A call for more cooperation from businesses, governments, and society through digital transformation

A short roundup of digital transformation topics discussed at this year’s annual World Economic Forum.

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The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an annual event in Davos, Switzerland. Business, tech, government, and climate leaders speak and connect on strategies to improve the state of the world, specifically its industries, people, and environment.

Technology and digital transformation took center stage as leaders discussed exciting predictions for the new year. 

Curious about this year’s happenings? 

We’ve rounded up all the WEF topics where digital transformation was described as a top priority. 

Small businesses 

The pandemic made its mark on small businesses, but post-pandemic spending and inflation are proving just as destructive. The WEF concurs that a global recovery is only possible with small business recovery

The answer? Digitalization through:

  • Online payments: The e-commerce market is booming, estimated to jump over $2.1 trillion from 2022 to 2026. 
  • Global customer appeal: Digital financial platforms like Alipay+ help businesses access wider customer bases — a must after the latest local spending limitations from inflation. 

Luckily, 70% of businesses see the trend, leaning toward a higher-revenue (8X) future through digital transformation.

Manufacturing 

Manufacturing plants are faced with a double-edged sword in the face of exponentially innovative technology. They need to embrace it without sacrificing their workers or local investment. 

Adapting effectively means balancing the cost savings and scaling of macro supply chains with more local investment and empowering their workforces with new skills.

But the digital transformation necessary to balance all three comes from collaboration with:

  • Supply chain partners 
  • Competitors and industry players 
  • Government stakeholders 

The WEF also developed a tool to help manufacturing players monitor and apply supply chain disruptions from climate issues, new technology, and geopolitical tensions.

Technology investment to combat economic downturn 

Economic hardships drive companies to limit expenditures. A prominent WEF topic this year was digital transformation as a way to survive and soar over challenging business times.

How? 

For starters, SaaS and its automation, as well as ultra connectivity with wifi and 5G, limit redundancy and heighten collaboration and productivity. The trickle effect is a smoother customer experience and more revenue. 

It’s estimated that 60% of the GDP relied on digital technologies in 2022.

A strong sentiment surrounding this was a call for more public-private collaboration to make these technologies accessible to businesses and drive the economy, as well as government investment in connectivity infrastructure. 

Digital transformation and ESG

Businesses should strive to drive value in more than just economic matters. Just as information and data solutions have been prioritized, so have their ESG contributions. In the digital space, a large part of ESG is making the technology that so many businesses benefit from, accessible and equitable. That covers the S in ESG — as for the environmental pillar, IT capabilities are adapting tout suite. 

For example, edge computing supports animal observation and preservation in terms of data collection. 

The governance that brings everything together is becoming expected in new IT investments. Another ESG example here is Lenovo’s environmental assessments of their supply chains, including reducing their plants’ carbon footprint.

Emerging economies

Technology is slower to blossom in emerging economies, but global leaders concur on a need to invest in digitalization in developing countries. This launched the Digital FDI (foreign direct investment) to create “digital-friendly investment climates” — starting in Rwanda and Pakistan. 

At a most basic level, this includes investments to bring internet connectivity to poorer countries, a luxury that only 53% of the world has. The initiative will fund technology startups and innovators in Pakistan and Rwanda, propelled by investment and, arguably most importantly, public-private cooperation. 
Learn more about 2023 digital transformation trends.

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10 unexpected alternative investments in luxury goods

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Masterworks.io compiled a list of 10 unexpected luxury goods that are also used by investors as alternatives to traditional investments, according to sources such as Forbes and Harvard Business School.
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Take a note from financial advisers—don’t work for money, get your money working for you.

Investments in property are typical, as is purchasing hedge fund assets or even helping fund a startup venture that could become the next unicorn tech company. For many investors, once they’ve ticked off these boxes, they may be ready to look outside the box—or the stock market ticker, in this case—and consider some novel ways to diversify their portfolios and grow those three-comma-laden fortunes.

Masterworks.io compiled a list of 10 alternative investments in luxury goods, from different sources such as ForbesHarvard Business School, Investopedia, and Investor Junkie. For the well-off, having an enviable collection of jewelry, vintage cars, and limited-edition toys and fashion accessories may just come with the lifestyle; but for investors, these top-dollar purchases can also be a smart investment when chosen wisely. 

Close up of vintage wine bottles.

l i g h t p o e t // Shutterstock

Vintage wine

A good bottle of wine is synonymous with the finer things in life, but it could also be a valuable avenue to more riches. If an investor knows their grapes, they could end up with a cellar of tasty investments—one bottle recently sold at a fundraising auction for a record $1 million.

Wine is notoriously difficult to appreciate for the uninitiated, and if you’re more likely to notice the “nose” and “legs” on a person than a glass of wine, you may wonder how you’ll navigate the wine world.

There are wine exchanges where the well-heeled can follow and invest in certain wines, online auctions, and more exotic options like buying wine before it is even sold, something called buying “en primeur.”

A cellar full of top-quality vintages will undoubtedly draw admirers of exquisite taste, but remember, actually tasting these investments will drastically lower their value.

Leather Gucci brand handbag on display.

yu_photo // Shutterstock

Handbags

Designer handbags convey status and have the benefit, to those of a certain class, of being expensive. Sotheby’s reports the average auction prices for new Birkin bags in 2022 ranged from $12,000 to $23,000. If it’s hard to believe that one purse could be so expensive, consider that the smallest bags can be the most expensive bags.

For some, it may be arguable whether buying a fashionably expensive accessory is “an investment” or just an excuse to elicit the envy of other high-fashion devotees. In this case, though, that handbag may be worth the trouble. A report from Credit Suisse and Deloitte found that the financial return on Chanel bags was an 11.8% increase in 2021, and 38% for Birkin bags.

A display of Star Wars action figures: R2-D2, Hans Solo and C-3PO.

Krikkiat // Shutterstock

Mint-condition toys

Many people have childhood memories of being given that toy they’d been dreaming about, or the crushing disappointment of finding out they weren’t actually going to get it. Now that those children have gotten older, some finally have the resources to collect the toys they had dreamed about it as a child. Nostalgia pulls in many collectors as they finally get ahold of a toy they couldn’t quite get their hands on in younger years, or rediscover a beloved childhood toy that was long lost.

The money can be pretty substantial, too: An original Barbie sold for $27,450, an Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure from “Star Wars” was won at auction for $76,700, and a Super Mario Bros. NES cartridge sold for $660,000.

Be warned, though: Not all that brings joy is valuable. If you’re still holding on to that so-called “ultra-rare” Princess Diana Beanie Baby in hopes of funding a new private jet, you should know one recently sold for only $9.

Still life of flowers in a vase by Jan van Kessel held by Sotheby’s attendant.

Tristan Fewings // Getty Images for Sotheby’s

Fine art

The wealthy have stored value in fancy art for millennia, and recent years are no exception. Wealthy people spent an average of $242,000 on art and antiques in the first half of 2021, according to Forbes.

Also, if you believe elegance is about condensing value into a small space, fine art is a fantastic option. “When Will You Marry,” a 40-by-30-inch work painted by Paul Gauguin in 1892, sold for nearly $300 million, or about $250,000 per square inch.

This sort of fine art purchase isn’t just for aesthetics. If you ship that artwork to your home, you could be facing millions in taxes, so an investor will likely ship it to a tax-free storage site to avoid that tax burden and keep those dollars safely in their bank account.

White glove presentation of luxury watches.

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Jewelry and watches

The arrival of the pandemic coincided with a spike in the value of vintage watches, according to GQ. New watches have pulled in serious modern-day dollars as well, like this watch from Jacob the Jeweler that lists for $620,000.

For those who sneer at the hoi polloi snatching up wrist candy, maybe rare jewels are more their speed. A pink diamond called the CTF Pink Star sold for over $71 million and a blue diamond sold for over $57 million.

Unlike wine or artwork, these are items you can actually use on a regular basis. If new money shouts and old money whispers, there’s no better way to broadcast your recent largesse than these sparkling acquisitions.

Cropped close up of a black Rolls Royce.

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Classic cars

What if you could combine the graceful lines of fine art with the fun of toys? If that experiential portmanteau is what you seek, then look no further than classic cars.

Classic cars rev up the nostalgia and envy of others, and they can have serious value. A rare 1955 Mercedes 300 SLR sold for over $143 million in 2022 and a vintage red 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sold for $48 million.

Leave it to the common folk to show off their fancy new cars on the internet, like this Pagani Roadster, which sells for a paltry $4 million. You know the journey to make all your Champagne wishes and caviar dreams really come true starts with the throaty purr of a classic engine.

A collection of vintage baseball cards.

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Trading cards

The company Verified Market Research says the sports card trading market was worth over $7.8 billion in 2021.

Investing in trading cards can be risky, as they don’t have the same intrinsic value of something like a car—which, even if valueless on the market, could still provide transportation—and so their values can fluctuate more. But you needn’t worry about such trivialities, as the stakes are small compared to other options: according to Yahoo, only two trading cards have ever sold for more than $6 million each.

Comic books on display at a retail store.

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Comic books

Even the moderately deep-pocketed can invest in comic books.

The record price for a comic book was a trifling $5.3 million in January 2022 for “Superman #1.” But the returns can be handsome. “Amazing Fantasy 15,” the comic book with the first appearance of Spider-man, sold in 2011 for $110,000 and sold 10 years later for $3.6 million, which is more than 31 times than the original investment.

Pair of Air Jordan sneakers with black background.

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Sneakers

While children from earlier generations may have been enamored with Superman, the younger set shifted their idolatry from figures of fantasy to heroes on the parquet floors of basketball courts.

Perhaps, you think, instead of chasing collectibles deemed valuable in the past, you could look to where future interest may lie. And a growing category of collectibles is sneakers.

Michael Jordan, a fellow member of the three-comma club, not only became an international superstar, but also helped usher in today’s fascination with sneakers. So, it is fitting that the most expensive sneakers ever sold were his, a $615,000 pair from the first-ever Air Jordan line, released after his rookie season.

A digital display showing Bored Ape NFTs on $100 dollar bills.

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Digital art, also known as non-fungible tokens or NFTs

Long gone are ideas of money being valuable because it is tied to a commodity like gold. Today we live in a world where money has value because someone says it does.

What better way to wrangle growth in your portfolio than by taking the concept of value to a further extreme: taking a digital file and giving it value because a record somewhere says you own it. Welcome to the world of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens.

While NFTs are tied with the cryptocurrency market, and 2022 has seen some rocky times in crypto, you can be sure that you’ll be joined by your fellow fiscally elite. According to Gadgets360, as of 2021, nearly 80% of all NFTs are owned by just a few investors.

This material is provided for educational purposes only. It is not investment advice and should not be the basis of an investment decision.

This story originally appeared on Masterworks.io and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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