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Monde du travail, questions sociales et sociétales

Labor and the Bush Administration: “down so long, seem like up to me”

Le syndicalisme américain pendant les années Bush
Gerald Friedman
p. 69-85

Résumés

Depuis un siècle, l’« exceptionnalisme américain » ou la spécificité du mouvement ouvrier aux États-Unis, est objet de débats entre spécialistes du mouvement ouvrier et syndicalistes. La faiblesse des syndicats américains, en particulier en termes de nombre d’adhérents, est imputée aux particularités de la société américaine, et notamment à l’hostilité des pouvoirs publics à leur égard. En conséquence, les syndicats ont été encouragés à développer l’action politique pour renforcer leur pouvoir. Depuis les années 1980, ils ont ainsi doublé leurs dons aux partis politiques, le parti démocrate étant le principal bénéficiaire de cette générosité. Ils n’ont cependant pratiquement rien reçu en échange des démocrates, même sous l’administration Clinton. Plus étrange encore, sous l’administration de George W. Bush, le déclin des syndicats s’est poursuivi pratiquement au même rythme qu’avant, même s’ils avaient en face d’eux un gouvernement hostile qui tentait d’utiliser contre eux les pouvoirs que lui conféraient les institutions, aussi bien dans le secteur public que dans le secteur privé. En fait, on assiste peut-être depuis une trentaine d’années à la fin de l’exceptionnalisme américain. Le déclin du syndicalisme a été moins prononcé aux États-Unis que dans la plupart des pays de l’OCDE, même s’il a dû faire face à un régime politique et juridique qui lui était plus défavorable, mais dont l’action s’est finalement soldée par des effets modestes. Ceci permet de penser que le déclin syndical résulte non d’une spécificité proprement américaine mais de caractéristiques que les États-Unis ont en commun avec d’autres pays. Dans l’ensemble du monde développé, les syndicats, et même l’idée du syndicalisme, ont perdu leur lien avec l’idéal démocratique. Aux Etats-Unis, comme ailleurs, leur renaissance sera conditionnée par autre chose que des victoires politiques ou une modification progressive du cadre juridique. Elle dépendra de la renaissance des idéaux sur lesquels s’est construit, à l’origine, le mouvement ouvrier : égalité, fraternité et lutte pour promouvoir la liberté et la démocratie au travail.

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Texte intégral

American Exceptionalism: History and Politics

  • 1  Werner Sombart’s Warum gibt es in den Vereinigten Staaten keinen Sozialismus? was first translated (...)
  • 2   William Forbath, Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1991; (...)
  • 3   See, for example, Richard Freeman & James Medoff, What Do Unions Do? New York: Basic Books, 1984.

1There is nothing new in the observation that American unions are industrially and politically weak. For over a century, scholars and activists have discussed the relative weakness of the American labor movement with a veritable academic cottage industry devoted to the question of “American Exceptionalism.” Waxing and waning with union fortunes, union decline sparked renewed interest in Exceptionalism in the 1970s and 1980s.1 Some activists drew both comfort and inspiration from a literature that turned attention towards political and legal circumstances unique to the United States. If American union weakness is the unusual product of a hostile American polity, this suggests that decline can be reversed by measures that would restore “normality” by making America more like Canada or Europe. Exceptionalist works, such as William Forbath’s Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement or my own State-Making and Labor Movements, encouraged American unions to look towards political action to change state policy as the way to reverse their declining fortunes.2 These works provided a historical background, a usable past, for policies to revive unions through political action.3

2Since the early 1980s, Exceptionalism has provided the motivation for a remarkable political engagement by American unions. Unions have been more engaged politically and more openly partisan than ever before in the history of the United States. So far, however, this political maneuver has done nothing to reverse declining membership and diminished bargaining power. On the other hand, surprisingly little changed in the Bush years, except that union decline has definitely spread to the rest of the developed capitalist world, undermining the basic premise of Exceptionalism. Rather than the produce of a unique, exceptionally hostile, legal environment, American union decline now appears to reflect conditions American unions share with unions elsewhere including those in much friendlier political environments. Just as Exceptionalism justified a political response by American unions, abandoning Exceptionalism may suggest a different set of policies to reverse decline.

3Moving beyond Exceptionalism opens new fields for research. American labor’s decline before and during the Bush years exposes deep contradictions and underlying weaknesses that have long afflicted labor both in the United States and abroad. Universal decline reflects aspects of past union growth and the modern labor movement. Unions and their companion political organizations were not established to promote ongoing unrest or to achieve revolution. Instead, they were reluctantly accepted by employers and conservative political authorities as alternatives to ongoing labor unrest and revolutionary action. It was in the birthright of the modern labor movement that labor leaders were to act conservatively, to pacify unrest, to discipline the rank-and-file, to restrain the very unrest that gave birth to the labor movement. Worse, labor has had to undermine and discipline the very democratic impulses that it needs to maintain its own legitimacy. Whether in America or in Europe, unionism has evolved into a top-down structure that has failed as an organizing strategy, a failure that cannot be reversed by any partisan political retort.

4In this essay, I explore the condition of the American labor movement after nearly eight years of the most reactionary and anti-union American President in nearly a century. The most surprising conclusion is how little effect the Bush Administration has had on American unions. Next, I examine the policies that American unions have adopted to reverse decline, notably through enormous political efforts to counter the American right and I find that these have failed to restore labor’s fortunes, and are unlikely to be more effective in the future. Instead, I conclude that union revival, in the United States as elsewhere, depends on rediscovering the radical and democratic energies that sparked past union explosions.

American Labor and the Administration of George W. Bush

5American labor should have fared poorly under Bush fils. The most conservative American president in nearly a century, Bush came to office without ties with labor and used every opportunity to challenge labor’s legitimacy and to attack unions. That said, the remarkable feature of the first seven years of the Bush Administration is that this radical political attack has had almost no impact on union membership. Union membership density, the share of workers belonging to unions, continued to fall but at a rate barely changed from under earlier, less hostile, administrations.

6The Bush Administration has missed no opportunity to attack America’s already bedraggled labor movement. Continuing and extending earlier policies, Bush used trade and macro policies to undermine the competitive position of unionized firms and their workers, including negotiating free trade zones with impoverished countries in Latin America, as well as policies to drive down wages by preventing increases in the minimum wage, attacking welfare levels and unemployment insurance, and macroeconomic policies designed to raise unemployment. In his reactionary politics, Bush fils benefitted from an unusual political alignment. Unlike his father, for example, Bush fils’ party had majorities in both houses of the Congress, control of most state governments, and a partisan majority on the Supreme Court. This made him one of American history’s most powerful presidents.

7Bush used his unprecedented power to attack labor unions as part of a general campaign to reorder American economic and political power. By pushing unemployment up to 6% his first term, compared with 4% in 2000, Bush helped to restrain wage increases so that real hourly earnings rose by only two cents a year on average during the Bush years, a quarter the rate of increase under Clinton.4 Because of rising unemployment and stagnant wages, real median household income fellbetween 2000 and 2007, down by about $50/year after rising by nearly $400/year 1989-2000.5 After falling by nearly a quarter under President Clinton, the share of workers earning poverty-level wages rose under Bush.6

  • 7   The Economic Policy Institute provided a good evaluation of these decisions in “Supervisor in Nam (...)
  • 8 Cited in a statement by John Sweeney & Rick Bender, “Bush’s NLRB Seems Poised to Cripple American L (...)

8The Bush Administration directly attacked unions whenever possible. Almost upon assuming office, on February 17, 2001, President Bush signed Executive Order 13 202 preventing Federal agencies from including Project Labor Agreements on federal construction projects, thus opening more Federal contracts to nonunion bidders. Early in his first term, President Bush appointed three prominent anti-union activists to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), including Robert Battista, Peter Schaumber, and Rene Acosta. Ruling consistently against labor, Bush’s appointees used their majority on the five-member Board to push through rulings that removed the right to unionize from graduate student teaching assistants, temporary workers and subcontractors, and restricted the use of card-check organizing. In the “Kentucky River” cases, Oakwood Healthcare Inc., Golden Crest Healthcare Center, and Croft Metals, Inc., the Board took away the right to unionize from eight million nurses, physicians, physician assistants, cooks, carpenters and others. Overturning decades of precedent, the Bush NLRB declared these workers were managers even though they lacked authority to hire, fire, discipline, evaluate, or to promote other employees.7 The number of new managers is expected to rise sharply when businesses reclassify workers to forestall union drives. Within days of the NLRB decision, for example, the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, countered an organizing drive by the Washington State Nurses Association by relabeling 600 registered nurses as “supervisors.”8

  • 9  See Human Rights Watch, “United States, Unfair Advantage: Workers Freedom of Association Under Int (...)
  • 10   National Labor Relations Board, Seventy-first Annual Report, for the Fiscal Year Ended September (...)

9Even before the Bush NLRB, observers condemned American labor law for failing to protect the right to organize. Human Rights Watch criticized the United States for tolerating the abuse of workers’ right to organize including rampant discrimination against union activists, the abuse by employers of NLRB election procedures, and the exclusion of millions of workers from protection under labor laws. The Bush NLRB moved law even further away from respect for workers’ right to form unions.9 Workers have responded to the Bush NLRB by abandoning the Wagner Act completely; the number of cases brought before the NLRB has fallen by 25% since Bush assumed office; instead, a growing share of organizing is being conducted outside of the ambit of the Wagner Act.10

10Public employee unions drew particular attention from the Bush Administration. Breaking with national policy dating back to the Kennedy Administration, Bush fils insisted, successfully, on excluding 170,000 employees of the new Homeland Security Department from collective bargaining, and sought, with less success, to remove collective bargaining rights from 750,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense. Bush Administration policy also sought to undermine union organization in state and local governments. After Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, for example, the Bush Administration used its unprecedented control over emergency redevelopment funds to eliminate the established school system with its teacher unions, substituting a city-wide system of charter schools without collective bargaining rights. In states with Republican governors, including Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri, established collective bargaining relationships were arbitrarily and unilaterally annulled.

11The only surprise is how littleeffect these policies had on unions. Union membership fell under Bush 43, from 16.3 million in 2000 to 15.7 in 2007, but this decline, from 13.5% of the labor force down to 12.1%, tracks almost perfectly with past behavior (see the linear trend line in Figure 1):

Figure 1. Union density and trend, United States, 1973-2003

Figure 1. Union density and trend, United States, 1973-2003

Source: Union membership data from the Current Population Survey at <http://unionstats.com/​> (accessed August 28, 2008).

  • 11  Union membership data base drawn from the Current Population Survey compiled by Barry T. Hirsch an (...)

12Unions did no worse under Bush fils than under his predecessors.11 Since 1980, the share of American workers belonging to unions has fallen in every administration and in almost every year. The Carter Administration, with a rapid growth in public sector unionization, was the only one to see an increase in unionization. Otherwise, the rate of decline in union density under Bush 43 has actually been less than that under Ford, Reagan, or even Clinton (see Table 1 and Figure 2). Private sector unions in particular have done better, or less badly, under Bush fils than under his predecessors. The situation has been different for the public sector where Bush fils may have contributed to the first decline in unionization in over 40 years (see Table 1 and Figure 2).

Table 1. Union density change, the United States, by President, 1974-2007

Presidents

Average annual density decline

Relative to initial unionization rate

Ford

-0.75

-3.2%

Carter

0.23

1.0%

Reagan

-0.78

-3.4%

Bush père

-0.25

-1.5%

Clinton

-0.29

-1.8%

Bush fils

-0.20

-1.5%

Source: Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey at <http://unionstats.com/​> (accessed August 28, 2008).

Figure 2. Change in union density by President.

Figure 2. Change in union density by President.

Source: Union membership data from the Current Population Survey at <http://unionstats.com/​>, accessed August 28, 2008

13Overall, however, there is little to suggest here that Bush’s aggressive anti-union drive has significantly hurt American unions, or that a change in American politics and law would significantly foster union revival.

14Comparing the experience of American unions with those in other advanced capitalist countries is another test for the impact of America’s reactionary politics. Here, again, there is little evidence that unionization in the United States has been particularly hurt by Bush fils. In the 1970s and into the 1980s, the United States did appear somewhat “exceptional” with low and declining union density (see Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3. Union density rates, United States and 17 other countries, 1970-2003

Figure 3. Union density rates, United States and 17 other countries, 1970-2003

Source: Jelle Visser, “Union Membership Statistics in 24 Countries,” Monthly Labor Review (January 2006), 38-49

Figure 1. Union density change by country, 1970-1990.

Figure 1. Union density change by country, 1970-1990.

Source: Visser, “Union Membership Statistics”

  • 12  Jelle Visser, “Union Membership Statistics in 24 Countries,” Monthly Labor Review, January 2006, 3 (...)

15But since 1990, the American unions have been joined by counterparts elsewhere with declining density in almost every country. Some countries with the strongest labor movements, including Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, have had larger density declines since 2000 than the United States.12

  • 13   Note that this analysis holds whether union density decline is viewed in absolute terms, as in Fi (...)

16These comparative data make it harder to argue for American Exceptionalism. There may be “exceptional” political or legal circumstances in the United States but if these explain union decline in the United States, then what explains the faster drop in some countries with more favorable legal and political environments? Certainly, unions depend on political and civil liberties and the opportunity to exercise dissent in public space; they have suffered under dictatorships and in undemocratic environments such as in fascist Spain or Korea’s military dictatorship. But, within the range of politics found recently in the EU and within the OECD, there is little association between politics and changes in union density; there is nothing to suggest that replacing the Bush regime with one more liberal would help American unions. Union density fell under Liberal governments in Canada, Labor governments in Britain, and Red-Green coalition governments in France, Italy and Germany at a rate as fast or even faster than in the United States under centrist Bush père or Clinton and the reactionary Bush fils (see Figure 5).13

Figure 2. Union density change by country, 1990-2003

Figure 2. Union density change by country, 1990-2003

Source: Visser, “Union Membership Statistics”

17In retrospect, Exceptionalist arguments may have been overdone even in the 1970s and 1980s; between 1970 and 1990, five countries had greater union density declines including Australia, Austria, France, Japan, and the Netherlands. Certainly, since 1990, talk of American Exceptionalism seems misguided. In only six countries did union density decline by less than in the United States; in ten density has fallen faster.

American unions use history to craft a response to the crisis

18Viewing union decline through the lens of American Exceptionalism gave American unions an action program. Using an Exceptionalist perspective in their influential study What Do Unions Do?, for example, labor economists Richard Freeman and James Medoff associated American union decline with conservative politics and government policy and suggested that the path to union revival ran through Washington DC because if United States labor laws were more like Canada’s then unions in United States would flourish like Canadian unions. Unions, Freeman and Medoff and others suggested, should renew their political alliances, expand their political action, and enhance their lobbying to win government policies that would allow for union revival.

19This was not new. American unions had been politically active since the movement’s 19th century origins. Before leading the American Federation of Labor (AFL), Samuel Gompers worked as a lobbyist for New York unions. Locating its headquarters in Washington DC, the nation’s political center, rather than in an economic center like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, the AFL proclaimed its political focus. But if labor has always been political, its involvement has mushroomed recently. Even before the election of John Sweeney and other new leaders to the AFL in 1995, unions were adopting an Exceptionalist vision according to which the key to union revival is to be found in political change, regulatory reform, and the enactment of pro-labor legislation by politicians electorally beholden to organized labor. Unions have been donating more money to candidates and have coordinated and targeted their political activities more carefully. Much of their energy has been focused on one particular piece of legislation. This proposal, the Employee Free Choice Act (or EFCA), would toughen penalties on employers who violate labor law, including providing injunctive relief for workers, require union recognition when a majority of workers sign cards requesting a union, and require mediation or arbitration for a first-contract after union recognition.14 Both major union confederations, the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win (CTW) have made the EFCA the central focus of the political agenda, and, even though the law would have no bearing on state and local public school teachers, they are supported by the largest independent labor organization, the National Education Association (NEA).15

20Despite stagnant membership, political contributions by unions have risen sharply since the early 1990s.

Table 2. Direct campaign contributions by American unions, 1990-2006

Table 2. Direct campaign contributions by American unions, 1990-2006

Source: < http://www.opensecrets.org/​indivs/​index.php> (accessed 20 August 2008). Note that expenditures in 2004 and 2006 include contributions to Section 527 organizations. Union membership from Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey at <http://unionstats.com/​> (accessed August 28, 2008).

  • 16  This total does not include expenditures in state and local elections; nor does it include “educat (...)

21In the off-year congressional elections in 1990, American unions contributed $41 million to political candidates. From this, expenditures in congressional elections rose by 22% by 1994, by a further 20% between 1994 and 1998, by nearly 60% between 1998 and 2002, and then by 14% more to $110 million by 2006. The rate of increase has been similar for presidential elections where total expenditures rose by 140%, from $53 million to $126 million, between 1992 and 200416. With stagnating membership, contributions by individual union members rose from barely $3 per member in 1992 to over $8 per member in the 2004 presidential race.

22Equally as important has been the great increase in unions’ direct political involvement. This includes educational campaigns directed at union members, campaigns to register members and to get out the vote, and direct lobbying. Again, these activities are not new; what has changed has been the increasing emphasis placed on them by a movement that has come to believe that its future depends on changing government policy. Over the last decade the AFL-CIO alone has spent nearly $50 million lobbying the Federal government. In addition to lobbying, unions have also ramped up educational campaigns among their members and efforts to register voters and to encourage voter participation. In the 2004 presidential election, for example, The AFL-CIO conducted what it boasted was the “biggest, most unified labor program ever.” Spending $45 million on member education and mobilization, the federation placed a heavy emphasis on member contacts such as workplace flyers, home visits, and phone calls. In “battleground states” where the contest was particularly hard-fought, 92% of union members were contacted. In addition to the efforts of the AFL-CIO, member unions conducted similar campaigns. The Service Employee International Union’s “Fight for the Future Campaign,” for example, included more than 2,000 members working full time in battleground states and a total investment of $65 million, which it described as “the largest investment by any single organization in the history of American politics.” Nearly 75% of those who had five or more contacts from their union voted for John Kerry.17

23To be sure, American unions have not relied exclusively on political action to reverse decline. In addition to dramatically increasing its political action, the AFL-CIO under Sweeney also initiated programs to encourage greater union organizing by training professional organizers. After Sweeney’s election, the AFL established an Organizing Department which opened an Organizing Institute to train organizers as well as encouraging college students to participate in summer organizing campaigns through a “Union Summer” program modeled on the “Mississippi Summer” of the Civil Rights movement. These efforts were meant to provide a model for other unions who were urged to put as much as a third of their budget into organizing efforts. In both respects, these efforts have been remarkably unsuccessful. Faced with declining membership, most unions have directed available funds towards political action rather than the uncertain prospects of funding organizing campaigns. Indeed, the election of Sweeney did nothing to change the attitudes of many union leaders who continue to resist new organizing for fear that new members and new energies would challenge their own grip on power within their organizations. Within three years of assuming office, Sweeney was forced to fire the Organizing Institute’s director, Richard Bensinger because he had antagonized several prominent union leaders. As for the new cadre of professional organizers: discouraged by failure, frustrated at the long hours and low pay, few graduates of the Organizing Institute have remained long in the labor movement. After over a decade, it is hard to detect any impact from AFL’s organizing initiative.

  • 18  For these issues, see Kim Moody, US Labor in Trouble and Transition: The Failure of Reform from Ab (...)

24This disappointing result should not surprise. Research on union growth, including work by some involved in the Organizing Institute, has established conditions for union growth that have little to do with any actions by national union leaders. Eric Hobsbawm, Dan Clawson, Gerald Friedman, Beverly Silver, Charles Tilly, and others, have shown that union growth comes in brief surges, growth spurts led by rank-and-file workers, including many without connection to established unions. Research on the outcomes of individual union drives by Kate Bronfenbrenner and others has reached a similar conclusion. Successful campaigns have been based on rank-and-file participation and leadership; top-down and centrally directed union drives fail precisely because central direction stifles the popular energies needed for success. To organize the millions outside the unions would take an upsurge from below that would challenge the existing unions and their leadership, not what John Sweeney had in mind.18

25From this perspective, most of what American union leaders have done to reverse union decline has been irrelevant. Worse, their actions have often been counterproductive when efforts to combat union decline through centralized organizing and political action have further undermined the rank-and-file energies needed for revival. Instead, failure has led labor further away from the needed popular mobilization. Facing declining membership, the AFL has encouraged unions to merge to capture economies of scale to fund organizing campaigns and political action. As recently as 1988, the AFL-CIO had 89 affiliated national unions. There are now 52. After adjusting for changing affiliations, the number of national unions has fallen by over a third in the last 20 years. The drive for scale has led to an often incoherent process of mergers that has created mega unions sprawled across industries and occupations with leaders distant from a fragmented rank-and-file. The United Steelworkers of America (USW of A), for example, includes steelworkers, aluminum workers, iron miners and glass workers, and workers in paper and paper products. It includes nurses and nurses' aides, workers making Harley Davidson motorcycles and Carrier air conditioners, rubber workers, bank tellers and graduate students and college professors. Members of the United Auto Workers (UAW), sometimes called the Union of All Workers, make cars and trucks. They also work as industrial designers, engineers, computer specialists, health care professionals, social service workers, journalists and writers, curators and librarians, graduate teaching assistants and state and local government employees.19

26Mergers like those that have created the modern UAW or the USW of A have created unions with the membership and dues needed to maintain existing union bureaucracies and their political campaigns. They have been defended from an Exceptionalist vision that organizing requires resources and political leverage comparable to those available to the most powerful corporations. But they have also created unions whose members lack experience of collective action or the common interest and connection needed for coherent collective action. Nonetheless, this vision of overgrown and centralized national unions was the reason behind the secession from the AFL of a group of unions organized now in the Change to Win movement (CTW). Led by Andy Stern of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), ironically John Sweeney’s own union, seven unions left the AFL-CIO in 2005 promising to devote more resources to organizing and to use these resources more effectively by concentrating resources under central control. They promised large-scale coordinated campaigns against companies like WalMart, Cintas, and Smithfield Foods.20

27Thus far, none of the CTW campaigns have borne fruit; none has mobilized the popular energies needed for successful organizing. CTW has been more successful as a political force and its leadership has played a prominent role in Democratic Party affairs. To concentrate its political energies to maximum effect, CTW’s political action has been run out of Washington, DC in the same way that its organizing has been centrally directed. This strategy has come to permeate CTW and its affiliates, especially Stern’s SEIU. He has remade the SEIU in the image of America’s corporations. Local unions have been merged into massive mega locals under the control of appointed leaders; resources, including rank-and-file action, have been centrally directed, targeted at particular organizing goals, and the union has spread organization through direct negotiation with management over the heads, even against the wishes, of local workers and their own organizations. Rather than building a democratic movement from the bottom up, the SEIU has imposed itself on workers with the agreement of management, agreement won on the basis of promises of labor peace and union-management cooperation.

After Bush?

28Despite a few successes in organizing public-sector workers and contractors, American unions have very little to show for their centralized organizing and political action. Over the past 30 years, it is difficult to find more than a handful of significant victories won by labor through political action. On the contrary, within America’s two-party system, the growing involvement of unions in the Democratic Party has dramatically reduced organized labor’s leverage on both the Republicans, who win without labor, and the Democrats, who have learned to take union support for granted.

  • 21  Quoted in Moody, US Labor, 235-236.

29More important than labor’s political failure, however, has been the failure of a strategy of top-down model of organizing, of politics, and of union action. Centralized power allows union leaders to concentrate resources to buy leverage in Washington, to throw resources at organizing campaigns, and to negotiate with management by giving leaders power over their members’ collective action. This makes centralization a solution to a particular problem: where unions are endangered by a hostile legal and political environment, by employer opposition that can be overcome by external resources or appeased by union cooperation. These are real problems facing American labor but the solution of union centralization has proven inadequate, even destructive. By separating members from power within their own unions and by demobilizing the rank-and-file, centralization has weakened unions, denying them their one great resource: the commitment and energies of their numbers. Ultimately, a labor union’s real power lies in the participation of its members, and it requires democracy to make members want to be involved. Friedrich Engels saw democratic unions as “the military schools of the workingmen” the place where workers learned the arts of class warfare.21 Through participation in their own unions, workers learn the meaning of democracy, and acquire the confidence and the tools to fight for their democratic rights. Unions can only survive if this fight is won; to win it, they must themselves become democratic.

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Bibliographie

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Notes

1  Werner Sombart’s Warum gibt es in den Vereinigten Staaten keinen Sozialismus? was first translated into English in 1976, in an edition with an introduction by the American socialist Michael Harrington. Werner Sombart, Why is there No Socialism in the United States? White Plains: International Arts and Sciences Press, 1976.

2   William Forbath, Law and the Shaping of the American Labor Movement, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1991; Gerald Friedman, State-Making and Labor Movements: France and the United States, 1876-1914, Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1998.

3   See, for example, Richard Freeman & James Medoff, What Do Unions Do? New York: Basic Books, 1984.

4   <ftp.bls.gov/pub/cpi> and <ftp.bls.gov/empsit.ceseeb2.txt> both accessed 8 September 2008.

5  This is based on an analysis of census data by the Economic Policy Institute; see <http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/webfeatures_econindicators_income_20080826>, accessed 28 August 2008.

6  This is based on an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics wage data by the Economic Policy Institute; <http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/datazone_dznational>, accessed 2 September 2008.

7   The Economic Policy Institute provided a good evaluation of these decisions in “Supervisor in Name Only,” Issue Brief 225 (July 12, 2006). Also see the dissent in the Oakwood case quoted in <http://blog.aflcio.org/2006/10/03/labor-board-ruling-may-bar-millions-of-workers-from-forming-unions/>, accessed 8 September 2008.

8 Cited in a statement by John Sweeney & Rick Bender, “Bush’s NLRB Seems Poised to Cripple American Labor,” (July 11, 2006) available at <http://dwb.thenewstribune.com/opinion/othervoices/story/5932919p-5233021c.html>, accessed 8 September 2008.

9  See Human Rights Watch, “United States, Unfair Advantage: Workers Freedom of Association Under International Human Rights Standards” (August 2000). The Report is at <http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/uslabor/>, accessed 8 September 2008, and New York Times, 1 May 2007. For Human Rights Watch’s response to the Kentucky River cases, see the letter sent to Battista and the NLRB in <http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/10/23/usdom14430.html> (accessed 8 September 2008).

10   National Labor Relations Board, Seventy-first Annual Report, for the Fiscal Year Ended September 30, 2006, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2007.

11  Union membership data base drawn from the Current Population Survey compiled by Barry T. Hirsch and David A. Macpherson. See Barry T. Hirsch & David A. Macpherson, “Union Membership and Coverage Database from the Current Population Survey: Note,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 56, No. 2, January 2003, 349-354. Data are drawn from <http://unionstats.com/>, accessed August 28, 2008. The latest available data are from 2007.

12  Jelle Visser, “Union Membership Statistics in 24 Countries,” Monthly Labor Review, January 2006, 38-49. Spain is an exception: union density rose slightly in the 1990s.

13   Note that this analysis holds whether union density decline is viewed in absolute terms, as in Figures 3 and 4, or relative to the initial union density rate. This analysis confirms my earlier work on historical union growth going back to the 19th century which found a positive association between union growth and leftist governments only when socialists first assume office. For this, see the discussion in Gerald Friedman, Reigniting the Labor Movement: Restoring Means to Ends in a Democratic Labor Movement, New York: Routledge, 2008.

14  See the summary of the Employee Free Choice Act in <http://www.americanrightsatwork.org/employee-free-choice-act/home/?gclid=CPC8rdzotZUCFQUNIgodp1elPw>, accessed 30 August 2008.

15  See <http://www.aflcio.org/joinaunion/voiceatwork/efca/>; <http://www.changetowin.org/issues/workers-rights/freedom-to-join-together-in-unions/employee-free-choice-act-efca.html; http://www.nea.org/lac/union/index.html>, both accessed 1 September 2008.

16  This total does not include expenditures in state and local elections; nor does it include “educational” expenditures by unions directed at their membership but nominally non-partisan.

17 These activities are described in Eric M. Appleman “Democracy in Action” at <http://www.gwu.edu/~action/2004/interestg/labor04gen.html>, accessed 9 September 2008. Also see Peter Francia, The Future of Organized Labor in American Politics, New York: Columbia UP, 2006.

18  For these issues, see Kim Moody, US Labor in Trouble and Transition: The Failure of Reform from Above, The Promise of Revival From Below, London: Verso: 2007.

19  See the description of the United Steelworkers’ membership in <http://www.usw.org/our_union/who_we_are> and the United Auto Workers in <http://www.uaw.org/about/members.html>, both were accessed 9 September 2008.

20  See <http://www.changetowin.org/about-us.html>, accessed 2 September 2008.

21  Quoted in Moody, US Labor, 235-236.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Union density and trend, United States, 1973-2003
Légende Source: Union membership data from the Current Population Survey at <http://unionstats.com/​> (accessed August 28, 2008).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/docannexe/image/3367/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 27k
Titre Figure 2. Change in union density by President.
Légende Source: Union membership data from the Current Population Survey at <http://unionstats.com/​>, accessed August 28, 2008
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/docannexe/image/3367/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 26k
Titre Figure 3. Union density rates, United States and 17 other countries, 1970-2003
Légende Source: Jelle Visser, “Union Membership Statistics in 24 Countries,” Monthly Labor Review (January 2006), 38-49
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/docannexe/image/3367/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 32k
Titre Figure 1. Union density change by country, 1970-1990.
Légende Source: Visser, “Union Membership Statistics”
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/docannexe/image/3367/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 31k
Titre Figure 2. Union density change by country, 1990-2003
Légende Source: Visser, “Union Membership Statistics”
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/docannexe/image/3367/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 29k
Titre Table 2. Direct campaign contributions by American unions, 1990-2006
Légende Source: < http://www.opensecrets.org/​indivs/​index.php> (accessed 20 August 2008). Note that expenditures in 2004 and 2006 include contributions to Section 527 organizations. Union membership from Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey at <http://unionstats.com/​> (accessed August 28, 2008).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/docannexe/image/3367/img-6.png
Fichier image/png, 8,7k
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Gerald Friedman, « Labor and the Bush Administration: “down so long, seem like up to me” »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. VIII - n°1 | -1, 69-85.

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Gerald Friedman, « Labor and the Bush Administration: “down so long, seem like up to me” »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. VIII - n°1 | 2010, mis en ligne le 04 mars 2010, consulté le 08 août 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/3367 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.3367

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Gerald Friedman

Gerald Friedman is a Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts. Born in New York City in 1955, he graduated from Columbia College in 1977 and received his Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University. In addition to his 1998 book, State-Making and Labor Movements. The United States and France, 1876-1914, and Reigniting the Labor Movement (2008), he is the author of numerous articles on topics in the labor history of the United States and Europe, the evolution of economic thought, and the history of slavery in the Americas. Of late, he has also been a regular correspondent on the international financial crisis on Al-Jazeera television and other media outlets.

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