State of the Union

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Dec 18 12:36:14 MST 2002

Nelson Lichtenstein. State of the Union: A Century of American Labor.
Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America Series. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2002. xi + 336 pp. Illustrations, notes,
bibliography, index. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-691-05768-0.

Reviewed by Richard P. Mulcahy, Division of Social Science, University
of Pittsburgh at Titusville.

Published by H-Pol (October, 2002)

American Labor: Where Did We Go Wrong?

During the debate in 1993 over federal legislation outlawing the use of
so-called permanent replacement workers during strikes, conservatives
spoke against the measure by arguing for the need to preserve a
"delicate balance" that supposedly existed between labor and management.
The image conjured up was one where employers were at big labor's mercy
and thereby needed something to combat union power. The irony is that
many people believed this assertion, which was grounded more in fantasy
than in fact.

The reality was, and continues to be, that big labor is not all that
big. Since the start of the 1980s, the position of organized labor in
the U.S. economy has shrunk from representing 28 percent of the non-farm
work-force to approximately 16 percent or less. Moreover, the machinery
created during the New Deal to protect a worker's right to organize, the
Wagner Labor Relations Act, is now antiquated and nearly useless. Union
supporters are regularly fired by their employers in flagrant violation
of the law. Meanwhile, these same employers jokingly characterize any
back-pay awards made to reinstated labor activists as a "hunting
license" fee.[1] In the meantime, unions have been demonized to the
general public as unnecessary, job-destroying and generally

Considering the position that the labor movement once commanded in the
U.S. economy, the question must be asked, how did this happen? Certainly
there are answers that leap out: the effects of deindustrialization, the
open hostility of the Reagan and first Bush administrations to unions,
and the indifference of the Clinton presidency. These points, however,
are only the symptoms of a much larger and more basic problem. In his
excellent new study, State of the Union, Professor Nelson Lichtenstein
attempts to identify that problem and offer some solutions.



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