An Injury to All: The Decline of American Unionism (Haymarket)
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Over the past decade American labor has faced a tidal wave of wage cuts, plant closures and broken strikes. In this first comprehensive history of the labor movement from Truman to Reagan, Kim Moody shows how the AFL-CIO’s conservative ideology of “business unionism” effectively disarmed unions in the face of a domestic right turn and an epochal shift to globalized production. Eschewing alliances with new social forces in favor of its old Cold War liaisons and illusory compacts with big business, the AFL-CIO under George Meany and Lane Kirkland has been forced to surrender many of its post-war gains.
With extraordinary attention to the viewpoints of rank-and-file workers, Moody chronicles the major, but largely unreported, efforts of labor’s grassroots to find its way out of the crisis. In case studies of auto, steel, meatpacking and trucking, he traces the rise of “anti-concession” movements and in other case studies describes the formidable obstacles to the “organization of the unorganized” in the service sector. A detailed analysis of the Rainbow Coalition’s potential to unite labor with other progressive groups follows, together with a pathbreaking consideration of the possibilities of a new “labor internationalism.”
longer a majority of the USW’s members. The percentage of members in primary metals industries fell from 52.4% in 1969 to 40.9% in 1980, and these figures included workers in copper and aluminum as a result of mergers that had occurred in the 1940s. The USW also had members in nonbasic steel fabrication (13.3%), mining (8.2%), transportation equipment (6.0%), and a variety of other unrelated jurisdictions where Sadlowski’s message was lost. Thus, Fight Back had the difficulty of mounting an
from year to year, it remained 37.7% in 1986, slightly above its 1980 level of 37.6%.2 As Table 7 shows, union density has consistently been higher in Canada than in the United States. Table 7 Union Membership as a Percentage of Employed Workers, 1984 Canada United States Manufacturing 45.0 26.0 Construction 38.8 23.5 Mining 32.8 17.7 Transportation 54.9 37.3 Services 38.1 7.3 Retail Trade 12.4 7.8 Government 66.6 35.8 Clerical Workers 30.2 14.0 Women 31.9 14.0 Source: Pradeep Kumar,
combination with the bureaucratic structure of bargaining in general, this made US labor’s basic line of defense a highly fragile one. The era of concessions and competitive bargaining that followed the collapse of pattern bargaining in turn lessened the attraction of the unions to the unorganized. The consequence has been the forced march of the American working class toward pauperization. The nearly decade-long wage deceleration, permanently high levels of unemployment, and the growing
‘Women Workers and the UAW in the Post-World War II Period: 1945–1954’, in Daniel J. Leab, ed., The Labor History Reader, Urbana, Ill. 1985, pp. 407–408. 14.Gabin, ‘Women Workers’, p. 410; Preis, Labor’s Giant Step, p. 272; Patricia Cayo Sexton, ‘A Feminist Union Perspective’, in B. J. Widick, ed., Auto Work and Its Discontents, Baltimore 1976, pp. 18–22. 15.Sumner M. Rosen, ‘The CIO Era, 1935–55’, in Julius Jacobson, ed., The Negro and the American Labor Movement, New York 1968, pp. 200–201.
and the workforce. These changes would demand of organized labor and its leadership a flexibility and a political awareness that was altogether missing in the routine of business unionism. The US Economy under Stress Long before the 1974–75 recession, signs of economic stress had emerged in the US and throughout Western capitalism. Average annual growth rates began to decline. For the developed capitalist nations as a group, real annual growth rates shrank from 5.2% in 1961–65 to 4.8% in