Labor Unions in the 60's - History

Labor Unions in the 60's - History

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In the 1960s, the percentage of workers who were members of unions was falling from the peak achieved in the 1940s and 1950s. While 31.5% of workers were union members in 1950 and 33.2% were in unions in 1955, that percentage fell to 31.4% in 1960, 28.4% in 1965 and 27.3% in 1970. Union participation has continued to fall since then. Thus, although unions have had an important impact on the American economy, an increasingly smaller percentage of American workers have been part of this impact since the late 1950s.
When the 1960s began, the world of American labor was still adjusting to the 1955 merger of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). In 1968, the United Automobile Workers (UAW) withdrew from the AFL-CIO and, in 1969, merged with Jimmy Hoffa's International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The newly formed organization was named the Alliance for Labor Action. Only two unions were formed in the 1960s: the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) in 1962 and the United Transportation Union (UTU) in 1969. Compared to previous decades, there was relatively little union activity in the 1960s. Nevertheless, two major union-related events which brought labor into the national spotlight: the Steel Industry Price Increase and United Farm Worker's Strike.

During the 1962 wage negotiations between the Steelworkers Union and the Steel Industry, the Kennedy administration urged the Steelworker's Union to accept non-inflationary wages, while putting pressure on the Steel Industry to maintain non-inflationary prices. As a result, the Steelworker's Union agreed to accept no general wage increase in 1962 and to eliminate the cost-of-living wage escalator, benefiting only from a 2.5 % increase in fringe benefits. After the Steelworker's Union agreed to accept this "non-inflationary" wage settlement, United States Steel, the country's largest steel producer, announced that it would increase the price of steel by $6 a ton. Within three days, Bethlehem Steel followed suit, as did five other major firms. This caused a serious clash with President Kennedy, as the price hike could have seriously damaged the economy by causing inflation. Kennedy forced the industry to push prices back down by verbally attacking their actions, beginning anti-trust legal proceedings, and ordering the Department of Defense to grant contracts only to the firms which didn't raise their prices. On April 26, Bethlehem, U.S. Steel, and two other companies were indicted on charges of price-fixing, in violation of anti-trust laws. The price increase was eventually rescinded.

In the late 1960s, the difficult life of migrant farm workers became increasingly unsustainable. Approximately a quarter of a million migrant laborers worked in the United States in the 1960s, often able to work only about 140 days a year and earn around $1000 a year. Until the 1960s, the poverty of migrant workers was not addressed by the government, and attempts to form a union were thwarted by commercial farmers. In 1964, Congress prohibited farmers from importing temporary Mexican farm laborers, legislation which benefited migrant workers.

United Farm Workers Strike (1965-1970)
In 1965, César Chávez and Dolores Huerta led the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee strike against California table-grape growers. The migrant workers in California wanted the AFL-CIO-affiliated union to be recognized by employers as a collective bargaining representative. By the end of the 1960s, the union was finally able to win contracts from the major grape and lettuce growers. Nevertheless, the victory of Chávez and the UFW was followed by conflicts with the Teamsters Union in the 1970s.

The History of Organized Labor

Trista Kennicker1,234 wordsThe History of Organized LaborThe first national labor unions were formed during the 1850??™s. These groups of workers were the typesetters, iron molders, hat finishers, stonecutters, and cigar makers. Locomotive engineers formed a union in 1863 and conductors formed a union in 1868.

In 1866, the National Labor Union began in Baltimore. The National Labor Union was many different unions all under the leadership of William Sylvis. They eventually got Congress to pass an eight hour work day for Federal workers. When Williams Sylvis died in 1969 the National Labor Union fell apart and only 10 of the 30 unions remained. A union of shoemakers formed in 1867. They were called The Knights of St.

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Crispin, but because of new machines that could make the shoes, the union ended after 10 years. The Knights of Labor began in 1869. Membership was opened to all people no matter what race, sex, or profession. By the 1880??™s the Knights of Labor had almost 750,000 members, but that number began to decline after the Haymarket Square Riots. The Haymarket Square Riots was when The Knights of Labor were accused of throwing a bomb that killed some police officers. The union fell apart because of the enormous amount of negative publicity they received from the Haymarket Square Riots.In 1886, The American Federation of Labor was founded by Samuel Gompers.

It was a union for skilled workers only. In 1894, the Pullman Strike occurred at the Pullman plant in Chicago. The American Railroad Union went on strike because of the handling of the Pullman??™s parlor and sleeping car that were on the railroads. 125,000 railroad workers were on strike but eventually the Supreme Court voted with an injunction to end the strike. Another well-known strike occurred in 1902. This strike was the United Mine Workers. More than 100,000 miners from Pennsylvania started a strike on May 12 and kept the mines closed for the whole summer. President Theodore Roosevelt took charge on October 3rd and on October 16th he appointed a commission of mediation and arbitration.

On October 21st the miners returned to their jobs and five months later the Presidential Commission awarded the miners a 10 percent wage increase as well as shorter work days.Many labor laws passed after the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in 1911. 146 people, mostly women, were killed because the company had locked the main exit doors in order to keep the employees from leaving during the work day. The first African American union was the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. In the 20??™s more than 20,000 African Americans worked as porters at the Pullman Company. The company would fire people who tried to organize labor unions for fewer hours and more pay, as a result, in 1925, the porters went to Philip Randolph, who was an African American who wasn??™t employed by the Pullman Company. Randolph then created the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and in 1936 it was formally accepted by the American Federation of Labor. In 1937, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters received its first labor contract, which decreased work hours and increased wages.

It was a huge stepping stone for African Americans and the American labor union.After World War I union membership dropped significantly from 5 million, in 1921, to only 3.4 million, in 1929. The dramatic decrease in membership was due to a few different things. Communists looking for power in the unions tested the leadership during this time. Also, employers were doing anti-union activities such as giving benefits like health insurance to nonunion workers, which made people who otherwise would??™ve joined the union, second guess that so they could have health insurance.

Unions lost members during the Great Depression, but the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the start of the New Deal were both positives things for organized labor. The Federal Government worked on getting people back to work and in 1938, minimum wages and maximum hours were legislated.

In 1935, the Social Security Act was passed which provided unemployment insurance and elderly and survivors??™ insurance. The National Labor Relations Board was started so workers could organize and negotiate without the interference of their employers, thus membership in unions increased considerably. In November 1935, the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) was created and lead by John Lewis.

He worked to organize automobile and steel workers. The CIO started sit-down strikes, where workers refused to leave the factories or do work. Employers were not able to bring in strikebreakers, who were people companies brought in to take the place of the workers that had went on strike, to continue production during these sit-down strikes. The CIO merged with the AFL (American Federation of Labor) in New York on December 5, 1955 to be the AFL-CIO. The merging of the AFL-CIO practically got rid of all of the arguments between different unions, so the unions could move forward to try and gain more rights for workers.

Over the past forty years union membership has little by little declined because of employers keeping their companies union-free, and many more woman and teenagers are working for lower wages. Still, organized labor has had a great impact on the work place. Workers have much safer working conditions than they used to have.

Unions ended child labor and brought upon the 40 hour work week. They also got people breaks during their work day. People now get paid for their overtime hours they put in, which would be nonexistent without unions. Workers can now file grievances for jobs that they feel may be unsafe to them or about an issue they have with their job or work environment. Employees are provided with or required to wear certain types of clothing and shoes in order to prevent them from injury.

The social impact of organized labor has been great as well. Workers used to work 10 hour days for 6 days a week. Children as young as eight years old were working instead of going to school.

Men and women received no benefits when they retired. Women who became pregnant were often fired. Now, workers have high wages and better hours. Workers receive medical coverage and paid vacation.

There is now workman??™s compensation for if a worker would hurt themselves on the job the company must pay for your medical bills as well as pay you a percentage of your wage while you are unable to work. The union has brought not only union workers wages up but has also brought up wages of all American workers. Organized labor unions are a very important aspect of the history of the American worker. The unions went through many ups and downs and have faced many obstacles throughout their push towards better working conditions and benefits for workers. If not for organized labor, workers today would not receive the higher wages and better hours amongst other things that they do. People would still be working with very few benefits from they??™re backbreaking jobs. I myself have been raised in a family that believes very strongly in what unions can do for the American worker.


1919–1921: Formation and early history Edit

The first socialist political party in the United States was the Socialist Labor Party (SLP), formed in 1876 and for many years a viable force in the international socialist movement. By the mid-1890s, the SLP came under the influence of Daniel De Leon and his radical views led to widespread discontent amongst the members, leading to the formation of the reformist-oriented Socialist Party of America (SPA) around the turn of the 20th century. A left-wing gradually emerged within the Socialist Party, much to the consternation of many party leaders. The new Left wing of the SPA attempted to win a majority of executive positions within the party's internal elections, after the election results, in which the Left wing of the party succeeded in electing many candidates, moderate leadership subsequently invalidated the 1919 elections. This flouting of democracy within the party set the stage for factions to split off to begin forming a new Communist Party. [10]

In January 1919, Vladimir Lenin invited the Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party to join the Communist International (Comintern). During the spring of 1919, the Left Wing Section of the Socialist Party, buoyed by a large influx of new members from countries involved in the Russian Revolution, prepared to wrest control from the smaller controlling faction of moderate socialists. A referendum to join Comintern passed with 90% support, but the incumbent leadership suppressed the results. Elections for the party's National Executive Committee resulted in 12 leftists being elected out of a total of 15. Calls were made to expel moderates from the party. The moderate incumbents struck back by expelling several state organizations, half a dozen language federations and many locals in all two-thirds of the membership.

The Socialist Party then called an emergency convention on August 30, 1919. The party's Left Wing Section made plans at a June conference of its own to regain control of the party by sending delegations from the sections of the party that had been expelled to the convention to demand that they be seated. However, the language federations, eventually joined by C. E. Ruthenberg and Louis C. Fraina, turned away from that effort and formed their own party, the Communist Party of America at a separate convention on September 1, 1919. Meanwhile, plans led by John Reed and Benjamin Gitlow to crash the Socialist Party Convention went ahead. Tipped off, the incumbents called the police, who obligingly expelled the leftists from the hall. The remaining leftist delegates walked out and meeting with the expelled delegates formed the Communist Labor Party on August 30, 1919. [11] [ page needed ]

The Comintern was not happy with two communist parties and in January 1920 dispatched an order that the two parties, which consisted of about 12,000 members, merge under the name United Communist Party and to follow the party line established in Moscow. Part of the Communist Party of America under the leadership of Ruthenberg and Jay Lovestone did this, but a faction under the leadership of Nicholas I. Hourwich and Alexander Bittelman continued to operate independently as the Communist Party of America. A more strongly worded directive from the Comintern eventually did the trick and the parties were merged in May 1921. Only five percent of the members of the newly formed party were native English-speakers. Many of the members came from the ranks of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). [11] [ page needed ] [12]

1919–1923: Red Scare and the Communist Party USA Edit

From its inception, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) came under attack from state and federal governments and later the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In 1919, after a series of unattributed bombings and attempted assassinations of government officials and judges (later traced to militant adherents of the radical anarchist Luigi Galleani), the Department of Justice headed by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, acting under the Sedition Act of 1918, began arresting thousands of foreign-born party members, many of whom the government deported. The Communist Party was forced underground and took to the use of pseudonyms and secret meetings in an effort to evade the authorities.

The party apparatus was to a great extent underground. It re-emerged in the last days of 1921 as a legal political party called the Workers Party of America (WPA). As the Red Scare and deportations of the early 1920s ebbed, the party became bolder and more open. However, an element of the party remained permanently underground and came to be known as the "CPUSA secret apparatus". During this time, immigrants from Eastern Europe are said to have played a very prominent role in the Communist Party. [13] A majority of the members of the Socialist Party were immigrants and an "overwhelming" percentage of the Communist Party consisted of recent immigrants. [14]

1923–1929: Factional war Edit

Now that the above ground element was legal, the Communists decided that their central task was to develop roots within the working class. This move away from hopes of revolution in the near future to a more nuanced approach was accelerated by the decisions of the Fifth World Congress of the Comintern held in 1925. The Fifth World Congress decided that the period between 1917 and 1924 had been one of revolutionary upsurge, but that the new period was marked by the stabilization of capitalism and that revolutionary attempts in the near future were to be stopped. The American Communists embarked then on the arduous work of locating and winning allies.

That work was complicated by factional struggles within the Communist Party which quickly developed a number of more or less fixed factional groupings within its leadership: a faction around the party's Executive Secretary C. E. Ruthenberg, which was largely organized by his supporter Jay Lovestone and the Foster-Cannon faction, headed by William Z. Foster, who headed the party's Trade Union Educational League (TUEL) and James P. Cannon, who led the International Labor Defense (ILD) organization. [15]

Foster, who had been deeply involved in the Steel strike of 1919 and had been a long-time syndicalist and a Wobbly, had strong bonds with the progressive leaders of the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) and through them with the Progressive Party and nascent farmer-labor parties. Under pressure from the Comintern, the party broke off relations with both groups in 1924. In 1925, the Comintern through its representative Sergei Gusev ordered the majority Foster faction to surrender control to Ruthenberg's faction, which Foster complied. However, the factional infighting within the Communist Party did not end as the Communist leadership of the New York locals of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) lost the 1926 strike of cloakmakers in New York City in large part because of intra-party factional rivalries. [16]

Ruthenberg died in 1927 and his ally Lovestone succeeded him as party secretary. Cannon attended the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928 hoping to use his connections with leading circles within it to regain the advantage against the Lovestone faction, but Cannon and Maurice Spector of the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) were accidentally given a copy of Leon Trotsky's "Critique of the Draft Program of the Comintern" that they were instructed to read and return. Persuaded by its contents, they came to an agreement to return to the United States and campaign for the document's positions. A copy of the document was then smuggled out of the country in a child's toy. [17] Back in the United States, Cannon and his close associates in the ILD such as Max Shachtman and Martin Abern, dubbed the "three generals without an army", [18] began to organize support for Trotsky's theses. However, as this attempt to develop a Left Opposition came to light, they and their supporters were expelled. Cannon and his followers organized the Communist League of America (CLA) as a section of Trotsky's International Left Opposition (ILO).

At the same Congress, Lovestone had impressed the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) as a strong supporter of Nikolai Bukharin, the general secretary of the Comintern. This was to have unfortunate consequences for Lovestone as in 1929 Bukharin was on the losing end of a struggle with Joseph Stalin and was purged from his position on the Politburo and removed as head of the Comintern. In a reversal of the events of 1925, a Comintern delegation sent to the United States demanded that Lovestone resign as party secretary in favor of his archrival Foster despite the fact that Lovestone enjoyed the support of the vast majority of the American party's membership. Lovestone traveled to the Soviet Union and appealed directly to the Comintern. Stalin informed Lovestone that he "had a majority because the American Communist Party until now regarded you as the determined supporter of the Communist International. And it was only because the Party regarded you as friends of the Comintern that you had a majority in the ranks of the American Communist Party". [19]

When Lovestone returned to the United States, he and his ally Benjamin Gitlow were purged despite holding the leadership of the party. Ostensibly, this was not due to Lovestone's insubordination in challenging a decision by Stalin, but for his support for American exceptionalism, the thesis that socialism could be achieved peacefully in the United States. Lovestone and Gitlow formed their own group called the Communist Party (Opposition), a section of the pro-Bukharin International Communist Opposition (CO), which was initially larger than the Trotskyists, but it failed to survive past 1941. Lovestone had initially called his faction the Communist Party (Majority Group) in the expectation that the majority of party members would join him, but only a few hundred people joined his new organization.

1928–1935: Third Period Edit

The upheavals within the Communist Party in 1928 were an echo of a much more significant change as Stalin's decision to break off any form of collaboration with Western socialist parties, which were now condemned as "social fascists". The impact of this policy in the United States was counted in membership figures. In 1928, there were about 24,000 members. By 1932, the total had fallen to 6,000 members. [20] Despite the changes in the USSR, the Communist International (Comintern) still played a large role in selecting CPUSA officials, additionally CPUSA and the Comintern still exchanged delegates during the 1930s, and CPUSA still accepted funding from Moscow. [9]

Opposing Stalin's Third Period policies in the Communist Party was James P. Cannon. For this action, he was expelled from the party. Cannon then founded the CLA with Max Shachtman and Martin Abern and started publishing The Militant. It declared itself to be an external faction of the Communist Party until—as the Trotskyists saw it—Stalin's policies in Germany helped Adolf Hitler take power. At that point, they started working towards the founding of a new international, the Fourth International (FI).

In the United States, the principal impact of the Third Period was to end the Communist Party's efforts to organize within the American Federation of Labor (AFL) through the TUEL and to turn its efforts into organizing dual unions through the Trade Union Unity League. Foster went along with this change, even though it contradicted the policies he had fought for previously. In 1928 Communist Party USA nominated William Z. Foster for the presidential election, he accepted with the aim of further growing class consciousness, they garnered over 48,000 votes (despite only having 9,000 members). Many of the party leaders, including Foster himself, knew that they were never going to win office. However they did stir some class consciousness but also butted heads with some unions during their campaigning, including the AFL. [5] [21] [22]

By 1930, the party adopted the slogan of "the united front from below". The Communist Party devoted much of its energy in the Great Depression to organizing the unemployed, attempting to found "red" unions, championing the rights of African Americans and fighting evictions of farmers and the working poor. [23] At the same time, the party attempted to weave its sectarian revolutionary politics into its day-to-day defense of workers, usually with only limited success. They recruited more disaffected members of the Socialist Party and an organization of African American socialists called the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB), some of whose members, particularly Harry Haywood, would later play important roles in Communist work among blacks.

In 1928 Communist Party USA changed its constitution and called for the right of self-determination of African Americans in the southern United States. [24] Communist Party USA would go on to help build the Alabama Sharecroppers Union and class consciousness in the "Black Belt' of the American South in the 1930's. Self-determination was never a realistic goal in the context of the American South, and one prominent black communist even admitted as such in 1935. [24] In 1931 the party began to organize the Alabama Sharecroppers Union in Tallapoosa County, Alabama. [24] However early efforts in Camp Hill, Alabama where plagued with poor organization and brushes with local authorities resulting in arrests and tension. [24] The party saw the creation of the sharecroppers union as key in the fight for self-determination and eventually reorganized in an effort to keep the movement alive. The area was divided into smaller locals and built outwards into four different counties. [24] The union was organized around seven basic demands that were largely economic and centered around the economic rights of sharecroppers. [24] In 1935 when the Alabama Sharecroppers Union had 12,000 members they called a strike in 7 counties across Alabama, demanding an increase in wages from roughly 35 cents to a dollar. The strike succeed outright on 35 plantations and wages were raised to 75 cents on other plantations. [24] CPUSA's campaign in Alabama helped lay the groundwork for the civil rights movement. [24] When CPUSA called for the right of self-determination and recognized distinctions in the African American struggle they created a new political ally in the working class and had the means to become an interracial party that could stand clearly against segregation and racial injustice. [24] CPUSA's actions in the South represented a changing in their actions and goals that would become solidified in their 1938 constitution as they moved towards more local goals. [25]

In 1932, the retiring head of the party, William Z. Foster, published a book entitled Toward Soviet America, which laid out the Communist Party's plans for revolution and the building of a new socialist society based on the model of Soviet Russia. In that same year, Earl Browder became General Secretary of the Communist Party. At first, Browder moved the party closer to Soviet interests and helped to develop its secret apparatus or underground network. He also assisted in the recruitment of espionage sources and agents for the Soviet NKVD. Browder's own younger sister Margerite was an NKVD operative in Europe until removed from those duties at Browder's request. [26] It was at this point that the party's foreign policy platform came under the complete control of Stalin, who enforced his directives through his secret police and foreign intelligence service, the NKVD. The NKVD controlled the secret apparatus of the Communist Party. [27] [28]

During the Great Depression in the United States, many Americans became disillusioned with capitalism and some found communist ideology appealing. Others were attracted by the visible activism of American Communists on behalf of a wide range of social and economic causes, including the rights of African Americans, workers and the unemployed. Still others, alarmed by the rise of the Franquists in Spain and the Nazis in Germany, admired the Soviet Union's early and staunch opposition to fascism. The membership of the Communist Party swelled from 6,822 at the beginning of the decade to 66,000 by the end. [5]

1935–1939: Popular Front Edit

The ideological rigidity of the third period began to crack with two events: the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as President of the United States in 1932 and Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany in 1933. Roosevelt's election and the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933 sparked a tremendous upsurge in union organizing in 1933 and 1934. While the party line still favored creation of autonomous revolutionary unions, party activists chose to fold up those organizations and follow the mass of workers into the AFL unions they had been attacking.

The Seventh Congress of the Comintern made the change in line official in 1935, when it declared the need for a popular front of all groups opposed to fascism. The Communist Party abandoned its opposition to the New Deal, provided many of the organizers for the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and began supporting African American civil rights. The party also sought unity with forces to its right. Earl Browder offered to run as Norman Thomas' running mate on a joint Socialist Party-Communist Party ticket in the 1936 presidential election, but Thomas rejected this overture. The gesture did not mean that much in practical terms since by 1936 the Communist Party effectively supporting Roosevelt in much of his trade union work. While continuing to run its own candidates for office, the party pursued a policy of representing the Democratic Party as the lesser evil in elections.

Party members also rallied to the defense of the Spanish Republic during this period after a Nationalist military uprising moved to overthrow it, resulting in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). The Communist Party along with leftists throughout the world raised funds for medical relief while many of its members made their way to Spain with the aid of the party to join the Lincoln Brigade, one of the International Brigades. Among its other achievements, the Lincoln Brigade was the first American military force to include blacks and whites integrated on an equal basis. Intellectually, the Popular Front period saw the development of a strong Communist influence in intellectual and artistic life. This was often through various organizations influenced or controlled by the party, or as they were pejoratively known, "fronts".

The party under Browder supported Stalin's show trials in the Soviet Union, called the Moscow Trials. [29] Therein, between August 1936 and mid-1938 the Soviet government indicted, tried and shot virtually all of the remaining Old Bolsheviks. [29] Beyond the show trials lay a broader purge, the Great Purge, that killed millions. [29] Browder uncritically supported Stalin, likening Trotskyism to "cholera germs" and calling the purge "a signal service to the cause of progressive humanity". [30] He compared the show trial defendants to domestic traitors Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr, disloyal War of 1812 Federalists and Confederate secessionists while likening persons who "smeared" Stalin's name to those who had slandered Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. [30]

1939–1947: World War II and aftermath Edit

The Communist Party was adamantly opposed to fascism during the Popular Front period. Although membership in the party rose to about 66,000 by 1939, [31] [5] nearly 20,000 members left the party by 1943, [5] after the Soviet Union signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany on August 23, 1939. [ citation needed ] While general secretary Browder at first attacked Germany for its September 1, 1939 invasion of western Poland, on September 11 the Communist Party received a blunt directive from Moscow denouncing the Polish government. [32] Between September 14–16, party leaders bickered about the direction to take. [32]

On September 17, the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland and occupied the Polish territory assigned to it by the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, followed by co-ordination with German forces in Poland. [33] [34]

The British, French and German Communist parties, all originally war supporters, abandoned their anti-fascist crusades, demanded peace and denounced Allied governments. [35] The Communist Party turned the focus of its public activities from anti-fascism to advocating peace, not only opposing military preparations, but also condemning those opposed to Hitler. The party attacked British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French leader Édouard Daladier, but it did not at first attack President Roosevelt, reasoning that this could devastate American Communism, blaming instead Roosevelt's advisors. [35]

In October and November, after the Soviets invaded Finland and forced mutual assistance pacts from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Communist Party considered Russian security sufficient justification to support the actions. [36] Secret short wave radio broadcasts in October from Comintern leader Georgi Dimitrov ordered Browder to change the party's support for Roosevelt. [36] On October 23, the party began attacking Roosevelt. [37]

The Communist Party dropped its boycott of Nazi goods, spread the slogans "The Yanks Are Not Coming" and "Hands Off", set up a "perpetual peace vigil" across the street from the White House and announced that Roosevelt was the head of the "war party of the American bourgeoisie". [37] By April 1940, the party Daily Worker's line seemed not so much antiwar as simply pro-German. [38] A pamphlet stated the Jews had just as much to fear from Britain and France as they did Germany. [38] In August 1940, after NKVD agent Ramón Mercader killed Trotsky with an ice axe, Browder perpetuated Moscow's fiction that the killer, who had been dating one of Trotsky's secretaries, was a disillusioned follower. [39] In allegiance to the Soviet Union, the party changed this policy again after Hitler broke the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact by attacking the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.

Throughout the rest of World War II, the Communist Party continued a policy of militant, if sometimes bureaucratic, trade unionism while opposing strike actions at all costs. The leadership of the Communist Party was among the most vocal pro-war voices in the United States, advocating unity against fascism, supporting the prosecution of leaders of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) under the newly enacted Smith Act [40] and opposing A. Philip Randolph's efforts to organize a march on Washington to dramatize black workers' demands for equal treatment on the job. Prominent party members and supporters, such as Dalton Trumbo and Pete Seeger, recalled anti-war material they had previously released.

Earl Browder expected the wartime coalition between the Soviet Union and the West to bring about a prolonged period of social harmony after the war. In order better to integrate the Communist movement into American life, the party was officially dissolved in 1944 and replaced by a Communist Political Association. [41] This coincided with the Italian Communist Party's (CPI) Salerno turn accommodation with other anti-fascist parties in 1944. However, that harmony proved elusive and the international Communist movement swung to the left after the war ended. Browder found himself isolated when the Duclos letter from the leader of the French Communist Party (FCP), attacking Browderism (an accommodation with American political conditions), received wide circulation amongst Communist officials internationally. As a result of this, he was retired and replaced in 1945 by William Z. Foster, who would remain the senior leader of the party until his own retirement in 1958.

In line with other Communist parties worldwide, the Communist Party also swung to the left and as a result experienced a brief period in which a number of internal critics argued for a more leftist stance than the leadership was willing to countenance. The result was the expulsion of a handful of "premature anti-revisionists".

1947–1958: Second Red Scare Edit

More important for the party was the renewal of state persecution of the Communist Party. The Truman administration's loyalty oath program, introduced in 1947, drove some leftists out of federal employment and more importantly legitimized the notion of Communists as subversives to be exposed and expelled from public and private employment. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), created in 1938 amid concerns over the spread of communism and political subversion within the United States, had a focus on investigating and in some cases trying citizens in court, who had communist ties, including citizens tied to CPUSA. [42] These actions inspired local governments to adopt loyalty oaths and investigative commissions of their own. Private parties, such as the motion picture industry and self-appointed watchdog groups, extended the policy still further. This included the still controversial blacklist of actors, writers and directors in Hollywood who had been Communists or who had fallen in with Communist-controlled or influenced organizations in the pre-war and wartime years. The union movement purged party members as well. The CIO formally expelled a number of left-led unions in 1949 after internal disputes triggered by the party's support for Henry Wallace's candidacy for President and its opposition to the Marshall Plan while other labor leaders sympathetic to the Communist Party either were driven out of their unions or dropped their alliances with the party.

In 1949's Foley Square trial, the FBI prosecuted eleven members of the Communist Party's leadership, including Gus Hall and Eugene Dennis. The prosecution argued that the party endorsed a violent overthrow of the government, which was illegal due the 1940 passage of the Smith Act [7] but the defendants countered that they advocated for a peaceful transition to socialism and that the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech and association protected their membership in a political party. The trial—held in Manhattan's Foley Square courthouse—was widely publicized by the media and was featured on the cover of Time magazine twice. Large numbers of protesters supporting the Communist defendants protested outside the courthouse daily. The defense attorneys used a "labor defense" strategy which attacked the trial as a capitalist venture that would not provide a fair outcome to proletarian defendants. During the trial, the defense routinely antagonized the judge and prosecution and five of the defendants were sent to jail for contempt of court for disrupting the trial. Public opinion was overwhelmingly against the defendants and after a ten-month trial the jury found all 11 defendants guilty and they were sentenced to terms of five years in federal prison. When the trial concluded, the judge sent all five defense attorneys to jail for contempt of court. Two of the attorneys were subsequently disbarred. The US Supreme Court upheld the ruling in 1951. [43] The government prosecutors, encouraged by their success, arrested and convicted over 100 additional party officers in the early 1950s. [44]

The widespread fear of Communism became even more acute after the Soviets' detonation of an atomic bomb in 1949 and discovery of Soviet espionage. [45] Ambitious politicians, including Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy, made names for themselves by exposing or threatening to expose Communists within the Truman administration or later—in McCarthy's case—within the United States Army. Liberal groups, such as the Americans for Democratic Action, not only distanced themselves from Communists and Communist causes, but defined themselves as anti-communist. Congress outlawed the Communist Party in the Communist Control Act of 1954. [46] However, the act was largely ineffectual thanks in part to its ambiguous language. In the 1961 case, Communist Party v. Catherwood, the Supreme Court ruled that the act did not bar the party from participating in New York's unemployment insurance system. No administration has tried to enforce it since. In addition to the Catherwood ruling, the Yates ruling of 1957 helped bring an end to the prosecution of communist citizens under the Smith Act. [43]

By the mid-1950s, membership of Communist Party had slipped from its 1947 peak of around 75,000 [47] [5] to an active base of approximately 5,000. [48] Some 1,500 of these "members" were FBI informants. [49] To the extent that the Communist Party did survive, it was crippled by the penetration activities of these informants, who kept close surveillance on the few remaining legitimate members of the party on behalf of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover [50] [51] and the party dried up as a base for Soviet espionage. [52] "If it were not for me", Hoover told a State Department official in 1963, "there would not be a Communist Party of the United States. Because I've financed the Communist Party, in order to know what they are doing". [53] William Sullivan, chief of intelligence operations for the FBI in the 1950s, has also described Hoover's continued zeal in pursuing action against the party as "insincere" as he was fully aware of the party's moribund condition. [53] Senator McCarthy had also kept up his attacks on the party during the 1950s despite also being aware of its impotency. [53]

Against the backdrop of these many setbacks, William Z. Foster, who was once again in a leadership role after the ouster of Earl Browder and who due to his poor health had not been brought to trial in 1948 along with a number of other members of the party's leadership, wrote his History of the Communist Party of the United States. [54] "The Party history is the record of the American class struggle, of which it is a vital part. It is the story, in general, of the growth of the working class the abolition of slavery and emancipation of the Negro People the building of the trade union and farmer movements the numberless strikes and political struggles of the toiling masses and the growing political alliance of workers, Negroes, farmers, and intellectuals", says Foster in the first chapter, illuminating a very different perspective of the party from within. [55]

1956–1989: Party in crisis Edit

The 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary and the Secret Speech of Nikita Khrushchev to the CPSU criticizing Stalin had a cataclysmic effect on the previously Stalinist majority membership Communist Party. [56] Membership plummeted and the leadership briefly faced a challenge from a loose grouping led by Daily Worker editor John Gates, which wished to democratize the party. Perhaps the greatest single blow dealt to the party in this period was the loss of the Daily Worker, published since 1924, which was suspended in 1958 due to falling circulation.

Most of the critics would depart from the party demoralized, but others would remain active in progressive causes and would often end up working harmoniously with party members. This diaspora rapidly came to provide the audience for publications like the National Guardian and Monthly Review, which were to be important in the development of the New Left in the 1960s.

The post-1956 upheavals in the Communist Party also saw the advent of a new leadership around former steel worker Gus Hall. Hall's views were very much those of his mentor Foster, but he was to be more rigorous in ensuring the party was completely orthodox than Foster in his last years. Therefore, while remaining critics who wished to liberalize the party were expelled, so too were anti-revisionist critics who took an anti-Khrushchev stance.There were various disagreements in the party during Gus Hall's tenure as General Secretary. The California sections of CPUSA were regarded as largely autonomous groups within the broader party. Anyone who didn't adhere to Gus Hall's party discipline ran the risk of being accused as anti-Soviet, an agent of the Democratic Party, and largely disregarded. The coming split centered over long standing personal and ideological views surrounding democracy, race relations, and the role of organized labor (among others) was in motion long before the coming party split in the 1990s. [4]

Many of these critics were elements on both United States coasts who would come together to form the Progressive Labor Movement in 1961. Progressive Labor would come to play a role in many of the numerous Maoist organizations of the mid-1960s and early 1970s. Jack Shulman, Foster's secretary, also played a role in these organizations. He was not expelled from the party, but he resigned. In the 1970s, the party managed to grow in membership to about 25,000 members despite the exodus of numerous anti-revisionist and Maoist groups from its ranks.

1989–2000: CPUSA in a Post-Soviet World Edit

The rise of Mikhail Gorbachev as the leader of the CPSU brought unprecedented changes in American–Soviet relations. Initially, American Communists welcomed Gorbachev's initiative to restructure and revitalize Soviet socialism. However, as reforms were carried out, neoliberal leaders Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher began to praise Gorbachev, which prompted Communists to double take on their assessment. As the liberalization of the Soviet system began to introduce more aspects of Western society into the Soviet Union, party leader Gus Hall came out in condemnation of these reforms in 1989, describing them as a counter-revolution to restore capitalism. This effectively liquidated relations between the two Communist parties which would be dissolved less than two years later.

The cutoff of funds resulted in a financial crisis, which forced the Communist Party to cut back publication in 1990 of the party newspaper, the People's Daily World, to weekly publication, the People's Weekly World. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a crisis in doctrine ensued. The Communist Party's vision of the future development of socialism had to be completely changed due to the extreme change in the balance of global forces. The more moderate reformists, including Angela Davis, left the party altogether, forming a new organization called the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS). In an interview, Charlene Mitchell, one of the members who left the party with Angela Davis, explained how she and others felt the party remained closed and failed to open up discussions among members. Many saw the party as slow and impartial to adjustment, one key area being their approach to a labor force that was becoming less and less industrial in the United States. [57] After the attempt on Gorbachev's life and Gus Hall's ensuing comments in which he sided with the coup, many, even those close to him began to question his judgement. [58]

The remaining Communists struggled with questions of identity in the post-Soviet world, some of which that are still part of Communist Party politics today. The party was left reeling after the split and was plagued by many of the same issues yet maintained Gus Hall as General Secretary. Despite a huge bump in membership numbers around the 25th National Convention, it proved to be only a temporary surge. [4]

2000-Present Day: A Change in Alignment Edit

In 2000, after the death of Gus Hall, Sam Webb became the chairman of the National Committee. Under his leadership, the party's top priority became supporting the Democratic Party in elections in order to defeat the "ultra right". Despite the party's previous rigidity which partially caused the previous split, in the 21st Century CPUSA was willing to align with the Democratic Party to an extent far greater than its previous internal critics had even called for. In fact CPUSA had shifted its views to the point where they saw the 2008 election of Barack Obama as a "transformative triumph of a labor-led all peoples’ movement.", [59] a far cry from their previous stances. [4]

Webb issued a thesis on how he saw the party's position in American politics and its role, rejecting Marxism–Leninism as "too rigid and formulaic" and putting forward the idea of "moving beyond Communist Parties" which was widely criticized both within the party and internationally as anti-communist and a move towards liquidation. Webb stepped down as chairman and was replaced by John Bachtell at the party's National Convention in 2014. Two years later, Webb renounced his party membership. [60]

During the 21st century in the wake of the split-up of the party, CPUSA experienced major membership losses. In just five brief years (2005-2010) they lost over half of active party members. [4]

In order to make room for the rental of four floors in the national building, the Communist Party had to move its extensive archives. The archives of the Communist Party were donated in March 2007 to the Tamiment Library at the New York University. The massive donation, in 12,000 cartons, included history from the founding of the party, 20,000 books and pamphlets and a million photographs from the archives of the Daily Worker. The Tamiment Library also holds a copy of the microfilmed archive of Communist Party documents from Soviet Archives held by the Library of Congress and from other materials which documents radical and left history. [61]

Although the CPUSA no longer runs candidates under its own banner, it does run occasional candidates as independents or as Democrats. In 2009 Rick Nagin came close to winning a city council seat in Cleveland. Nagin won 24% of the votes and second place in the primary and therefore advanced to the general election. He lost the general election, although he gained 45% of the votes. [62] [63] [64] In 2019 Wahsayah Whitebird, a member of the CPUSA, won a seat on the city council of Ashland, WI. [65] [66] In April of 2021 CPUSA staff released an article/statement declaring it was time to begin running candidates once again. CPUSA has begun exploring running explicitly communist candidates under the party name in local elections in the very near future. [67] A far cry from having tens of thousands of members, CPUSA now only claims 5,000 active members. Even more troubling is that independent estimates claim membership is even lower than 5,000. With a small amount of members and presumably limited due collection CPUSA can only keep two staff members on salary. [68]

During the 2020 election CPUSA self-published articles written by the party staff in tacit support of then candidate Joe Biden and in vehement opposition to President Donald Trump, CPUSA accused Trump of spreading "deadly hate" during the election. [69] CPUSA has published unofficial (articles on the CPUSA website but not written by party staff) articles likening the 2020 election movement to elect Joe Biden to another Popular Front. [70] In the wake of the January 6 Capitol Riot the party released an article calling for the forced removal of Donald Trump from office. [71] Due to lack of membership and limited office space and funding, CPUSA's presence is mostly online via their website and social media accounts. [72]

A Condensed History of Labor Since the 1960s

The labor movement faced few extraordinary struggles during the second half of the 20th century. Now, an intra-union conflict is set to be the most dramatic clash in decades.

Since the 1960s, when public sector workers across the country risked jail to win the right to organize, American labor hasn't had many struggles it could boast of -- those David-and-Goliath battles where long downtrodden workers won against all odds. Instead, there have been a relative handful of dramatic victories that demonstrated that fiercely dedicated workers within smart and determined unions could still prevail. There were the immigrant janitors who won recognition from the real estate magnates of America's downtowns, the textile workers who fought for 17 years before bringing J.P. Stevens to heel, the Las Vegas housekeepers who brought middle-class living standards to the bastion of casino capitalism by keeping a strike going for close to seven years.

In a time when American labor didn't have many successes to point to, the three unions that won these battles -- respectively, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers, and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE) -- could point to organizing victories that were the envy of the movement. HERE had the distinction of being the only union in America to take a major city in a Sunbelt, right-to-work state -- Las Vegas -- and turn it into a union town. Beginning in the mid-80s, the union's leaders ran a campaign that, in time, organized 90 percent of the hotels on the Vegas Strip. HERE grew the local from 18,000 members when they began to more than 50,000 today, and won contracts that brought middle-class living standards to what had previously been a low-wage work force in a labor-hostile city.

As labor battled to renew itself over the past several decades and to move past the ideological barriers of George Meany's AFL-CIO, these unions often led the charge. Throughout the 1980s, it was the Amalgamated that led the opposition to the AFL-CIO's support for Ronald Reagan's Central American interventions. In the late 1990s, it was HERE that persuaded the AFL-CIO to reverse its longstanding opposition to immigrant workers (a battle that the International Ladies Garment Workers Union -- the ILGWU -- had waged to no avail throughout the 1980s).

These were unions that, whatever their flaws, inspired workers to take very real risks in collective action, and inspired young people to devote their lives to organizing. That's why, when HERE and UNITE (the union that resulted from the 1995 merger of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers with the ILGWU) merged in 2004 to form UNITE HERE, there was widespread excitement in labor circles. The new union would be able to combine two groups of very talented union leaders, organizers and researchers, along with UNITE's considerable financial resources, to organize tens of thousands of hotel housekeepers and waiters and cooks.

Along with SEIU's property services division, which organized janitors, UNITE and HERE led the labor movement in their ability to organize immigrants and people of color into vibrant unions. At times, the unions seemed just about the only ones able to organize private sector workers in America, through campaigns that entailed intense rank-and-file mobilization, the construction of broad-based community support groups, and political and economic pressure on employers. In Los Angeles, the main HERE local provided the seed money for the nation's most visionary and effective living wage movement, which in turn spurred the growth of such groups in a hundred other cities. In New York, the Amalgamated Bank, owned by UNITE and its locals, played a key role in launching shareholder lawsuits against miscreant corporations (it was the lead plaintiff against Enron), including a series of suits that compelled pharmaceutical companies to reduce the costs of their AIDS medications in Africa.

These were among, at times, the most innovative unions in America, and by joining together, UNITE and HERE formed a new union that seemed to have everything going for it. What could possibly go wrong?

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The workers’ rebellion of the 1960s

Depictions of American workers in the 1960s usually bring forth images of flag-waving construction workers busting up antiwar demonstrations. Even the most sympathetic portrayals don't stray very far from the model of Archie Bunker, from the popular sitcom All in the Family--a blue-collar bigot unable to cope wit the world changing around him.

But as Sharon Smith explains, the stereotypes misrepresent the 1960s decade, which culminated in the biggest, most militant labor upsurge since the end of the Second World War. In reality, the 1960s movements against the war and for Black Power led to the political radicalization of a significant layer of industrial workers. This article originally appeared in the December 1990 issue of Socialist Worker.

THE VIETNAM War combined with the movements against the war and for Black Power led to the political radicalization of a significant layer of industrial workers for the first time since the 1930s. This was especially true among young and Black workers.

Strike levels began to climb as early as 1965--and between the years 1967 to 1971, the average number of workers involved in strikes doubled.

But even more important than the number of strikes was the level of militancy on the part of the strikers. Many workers found themselves battling not only speedup and automation imposed by management, but also the inertia and misleadership of their own union leaders.

The U.S. emerged from the Second World War as the world's unchallenged superpower, and the postwar years witnessed an unprecedented economic boom. The expansion of U.S. capitalism led to a slow but steady rise in working-class living standards during the 1950s and midway through the 1960s.

But even as the much-touted "American Dream" became the aspiration for the mass of workers in the U.S., a number of factors mitigated against the dream ever becoming a reality.

During the years when wages were rising, working conditions were deteriorating. Employers made up for higher wages by negotiating higher levels of output into union contracts. And the labor leaders--seasoned veterans of business unionism by the 1960s--were all too willing to comply.

Time off in the form of vacations, coffee breaks and sick leave all fell victim to new work standards negotiated in the 1950s and 1960s, while automation, forced overtime and speedups allowed management to more than compensate for high wages.

During the period from 1955 to 1967, non-farm employees' average work hours rose by 18 percent, while manufacturing workers' increased by 14 percent. In the same period, labor costs in non-farm business rose 26 percent, while after-tax corporate profits soared 108 percent. And during the period between 1950 and 1968, while the number of manufacturing workers grew by 28.8 percent, manufacturing output increased by some 91 percent.

THIS POINTS to the contradiction inherent in the "American Dream"--higher wages and a better standard of living available only at increasingly extreme levels of exploitation. Even for the highest-paid workers, better pay couldn't make up for the dehumanizing and degrading conditions on the job.

Moreover, automation and speedup in the manufacturing sector coupled with low growth rates meant fewer jobs. For example, employment at Ford's River Rouge plant peaked at 100,000 during the Second World War, fell to 65,000 after the war, and then to 35,000 by the 1960s.

The union officials were only too eager to sacrifice shop floor conditions for wage and benefit increases in contracts that grew in duration. By the 1950, the norm of one- and two-year contracts had been replaced by three-, four- and event five-year labor contract.

But union leaders were guilty of much more than ever-weakening contract language. Companies were given free reign to break the contract agreement in order to increase productivity, while the grievance system all but broke down. In fact, in many cases, management came to rely on union officials to "police" the workforce--that is, to enforce productivity rates and shop floor discipline.

Many unions gave up the rights of workers to refuse overtime work and/or adopt no-strike pledges. Unresolved grievances piled up, leaving workers no recourse when management violated the contract.

Under these circumstances, the heightened alienation felt by workers wasn't limited to management but spilled over into a growing hostility toward the union leaders. This was particularly true in the auto industry, where automation had a dramatic impact on the work process. In the early 1960s, the growing disaffection toward union leaders was expressed in a number of ways.

First of all, unprecedented numbers of local union officials found themselves voted out of office. In 1961 and again in 1963, fully one third of United Auto Workers (UAW) local presidents were voted out of office--the highest turnover in UAW history.

Secondly, workers fought speedups and loosely coordinated slowdowns and sabotage of equipment, as a way to slow down the assembly line without involving the union. As Martin Glaberman asked in this 1965 article entitled "Be his payment high or low":

Assembly lines have a way of breaking down--and who is to say that the bolt that jammed the line was not dropped accidentally? Who is to know that the warning lights which signal the stoppage of the line were not burned out but merely unscrewed to add a few minutes to the time it takes to repair the line?

BUT BY far, the most effective weapon used by workers to protect their working conditions was the wildcat strike--a weapon that was used with greater frequency as the 1960s decade wore on.

The Chrysler Corporation, for example, reported 15 unauthorized strikes in 1960. That figure jumped to 49 in 1967, and then peaked at 91 in 1968. And the number of wildcats in the manufacturing sector as a whole went from about 1,000 in 1960 to 2,000 in 1969.

The union officialdom fought back as they could to curtail the rebellions of unruly union locals. A Flint, Mich., local was laced into receivership when an entire issue of its newspaper was devoted to listing and exposing all the grievances waiting to be settled.

When Dodge Local 3 rejected the 1964 auto contract, the leadership resorted to underhanded maneuvers to get "democratic" approval. After the contract was rejected the first time, it was sent back for a second vote.

When the second vote also rejected the contract, union leaders sent it back for yet a third vote--at which point the contract was accepted--by a margin of 150 members out of a total membership of 4,000.

The relative youth of the labor movement in the 1960s, as the baby boom generation entered the workforce, certainly helped boost the mood of militancy.

By 1967, 14 percent of the labor movement was made up of people under the age of 21, and 40 percent of UAW members were under 30. Large numbers of workers in this age group were no doubt influenced by the antiwar movement, as larger and larger numbers of young people took an active stand against the war and against U.S. imperialism.

IN THE wake of the ghetto riots that erupted in the mid-1960s and the birth of the Black Power movement that followed, Black workers began to play a more central role in initiating and leading local struggles--a process that ultimately shifted the character of the rank-and-file movement to the let in the early 1970s.

In the post-war era, no pretense was even attempted that the "American Dream" would extend to the Black working class. While the vast majority of white workers saw their living standards raised, those of Black workers were dropping.

While the median income of Black workers amounted to about 60 percent of white workers' wages in 1950, it has fallen to 55 percent in 1955, and an appalling 53 percent in 1962.

Meanwhile, Black unemployment remained consistently double that of whites. Having railed to address the issue of racism within its own ranks, the AFL-CIO (which still allowed segregated union locals at its founding conference in 1955) failed even to go through the motion of supporting the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

George Meany, the head of the AFL-CIO, refused to endorse the 1963 March on Washington. And even the UAW, which endorsed the march, opposed the slogan of jobs programs for Blacks--a demand for what eventually came to be called "affirmative action" for Blacks, which was a central demand of the civil rights movement.

Yet the top leadership of the AFL-CIO and its affiliates remained lily white.

But the cast majority of Blacks held working-class jobs in the 1960s, which made class struggle a natural outlet for mounting frustrations. And a number of cities, like Detroit, were populated by a Black majority. In centers of auto production like Detroit, large numbers of Blacks held jobs in the auto plants of the Big Three in the 1960s.

It is no wonder that groups of Black auto workers, such as the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) in Detroit or the United Black Brothers at Mahwah, N.J., which led key wildcat strikes, set the political tone and demands of the most radical wing of the labor movement during this period--in an attempt to pull together demands against racism with economic issues as part of a singe struggle.

Accumulated bitterness that began to erupt in widespread struggle in the second half of the 1960s developed into full-scale rank-and-file rebellions within several key industries in the years 1969-73--rebellions directed not only against management but against the union bureaucracy as well.

But the stage for these struggles had been set much earlier--during the years in which the "American Dream" was shattered for so many.

Labor Movement

The labor movement took its root long back in the colonial regime spanning between 1619 and 1776 plus. Initially the social set up was overwhelmingly rural with abundant land. A vast majority of the population of the Eastern US, then called New World, were self employed as independent farmers and artisans, or later in urban retail trade and professions. Then with the shift in agricultural pattern from food crops to cash crops and from local consumption to global sale, demand for labor rose.

To satisfy the demand potential employers turned towards indentured servants and African slaves. The servants and slaves apart skilled craftsmen at first plied their trade independently. But with the growth of urban concentration master workmen set up small retail shops and employed journeymen and apprentices against wage payment. After all, the bustling seaport cities had always needed casual laborers and hired craftsmen.

Before 1840s the workers' income was based on price, the remuneration they received for the sale of end product of the labor. The payment of wages came about through introduction of machine into a factory. Around mid 18th century the labor scarcity abated with the growth of population and a curb in the supply of lands. As the fruits of industrial era started to yield people migrated to urban area where manufacturing was booming.

As the erstwhile skills were broken down the competition for these factory jobs increased. On one hand there was trade specialization and developed urban conditions, on the other, the growing fear of unemployment spelled increasing want and discontent. Then with the accumulation of capital by a special class the factory workers lost their independence and also their dignity. This change of status was the basic reason for workers' protests at its earliest form. Evidence of protests with the modern flair was seen as early as 1768 by journeymen tailors. They were joined in by a number of similar organizations later. However, none of them could be termed as labor union.

The 1830s saw the workers demanding social reforms as far as their rights are concerned. In 1827 a Mechanics' Union of Trade Associations came up in Philadelphia. It was the country's first labor organization.

During the 1840s it took a defensive form and changed to a state of uprising as the workers sought to cling to the traditions and methods of the past. The protests acquired a new face as the social reformers of the era soon joined hands with the workers.

However the attitude soon changed. As the workers in the '50s learnt to accept the loss of status they sought to organize around their crafts for the purpose of bargaining collectively with their employers.

By the '60s large portions of America had become industrialized with around 5 millions wage earners in industry, commerce and agriculture. Keeping pace with this industrial boom unions too kept flourishing. The depression in the late '60s intensified the employers' resistance to any reduction of working hours. The utility of trade unions became more apparent each day. In 1872 New Yorkers were to unleashed the most formidable labor struggle of the epoch. However the movement eventually failed.

It was 1882 when the next significant labor stir came. The Knights of Labor under the Central Labor Union held a large parade in New York City on the occasion of the national Knights of Labor conference. In 1884 the group held a parade on the first Monday of September and passed a resolution to hold all future parades on that day and to designate the day as Labor Day.

By the 1890's, when the K of L had all but disappeared, the American Federation of Labor created the 'business union' movement. Although the AFL affiliates encountered vehement employer and judicial opposition, they succeeded in organizing millions of skilled crafts personnel. Courtesy, the able leadership of Samuel Gompers. It soon earned statutory rights to organize for collective bargaining purposes from the federal government.

The creation of the industrial union movement through the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the late 1930s led to the organization of mass production industries. Competition between AFL and the affiliates of newly created Committee for Industrial Organization generated significant union growth throughout 1940s and '50s. In mid 1950s with the AFL-CIO merger unions represented approximate 35 per cent non-agricultural labor force.

Even though the private sector union participation rate has declined over the recent past public opinion surveys demonstrate that most American workers continue to believe that employment interest can be advanced through unionization.


Early history Edit

The American Federation of Labor (AFL) had helped form local unions of teamsters since 1887. In November 1898, the AFL organized the Team Drivers' International Union (TDIU). [3] [4] In 1901, a group of teamsters in Chicago, Illinois, broke from the TDIU and formed the Teamsters National Union. [3] Unlike the TDIU, which permitted large employers to be members, the new Teamsters National Union permitted only employees, teamster helpers, and owner-operators owning only a single team to join, and advocated higher wages and shorter hours more aggressively than the TDIU. [3] Claiming more than 28,000 members in 47 locals, its president, Albert Young, applied for membership in the AFL. The AFL asked the TDIU to merge with Young's union to form a new, AFL-affiliated union and the two groups did so in 1903, forming the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), [4] and electing Cornelius Shea as the new union's first president. [3] [4] The election process proved tumultuous. Shea effectively controlled the convention because the Chicago locals—representing nearly half the IBT's membership [5] —supported his candidacy en bloc. Shea was opposed by John Sheridan, president of the Ice Drivers' Union of Chicago. Sheridan and George Innes, president of the TDIU, accused Shea of embezzlement in an attempt to prevent his election. [6] Shea won the election on August 8, 1903, by a vote of 605 to 480. The new grouping elected Edward L. Turley of Chicago as secretary-treasurer and Albert Young as general organizer. [7] [8]

The union, like most unions within the American Federation of Labor (AFL) at the time, had a largely decentralized structure, with a number of local unions that governed themselves autonomously and tended to look only after their own interests in the geographical jurisdiction in which they operated. [9] [10] [11] The teamsters were vitally important to the labor movement, for a strike or sympathy strike by the teamsters could paralyze the movement of goods throughout a city and bring a strike into nearly every neighborhood. [5] It also meant that teamsters leaders were able to demand bribes in order to avoid strikes, and control of a teamsters local could bring organized crime significant revenues. During Shea's presidency, the entire teamsters union was notoriously corrupt. [12] [13] [14]

Several major strikes occupied the union in its first three years. In November 1903, teamsters employed by the Chicago City Railway went out on strike. Shea attempted to stop sympathy strikes by other teamster locals, but three locals walked out and eventually disaffiliated over the sympathy-strike issue. [15] A sympathy strike in support of 18,000 striking meat cutters in Chicago in July 1904 led to riots before the extensive use of strikebreakers led Shea to force his members back to work (leading to the collapse of the meat cutters' strike). [12] [16] [17] In the midst of the strife in 1904, the teamsters convention in Cincinnati, Ohio re-elected Shea by acclamation on August 8, 1904. [17] Under his leadership, the union had expanded to nearly 50,000 members in 821 locals in 300 cities, making the Teamsters one of the largest unions in the United States. [12]

In 1905 10,000 teamsters struck in support of locked-out tailors at Montgomery Ward, and eventually more than 25,000 teamsters manned the picket lines. [18] [19] [20] But when local newspapers discovered that Shea was living in a local brothel, kept a 19-year-old waitress as a mistress, and had spent the strike hosting parties, public support for the strike collapsed and the strike ended on August 1, 1905. [18] [20] [21] [22] Despite the revelations, Shea won re-election on August 12, 1905, by a vote of 129 to 121. [23]

Shea was re-elected again in 1905 and 1906, although significant challenges to his presidency occurred each time. [24] Shea's first trial on charges stemming from the 1905 Montgomery Ward strike ended in a mistrial. [25] However, during the 1906 re-election Shea had promised that he would resign the presidency once his trial had ended. [26] But he did not, and most union members withdrew their support for him. [26] Daniel J. Tobin of Boston was elected Shea's successor by a vote of 104 to 94 in August 1907. [27]

Organizing and growth during the Great Depression Edit

Tobin was president of the Teamsters from 1907 to 1952. Although he faced opposition in his re-election races in 1908, 1909 and 1910, he never faced opposition again until his retirement in 1952. [28]

The Teamsters began to expand dramatically and mature organizationally under Tobin. He pushed for the development of "joint councils" to which all local unions were forced to affiliate. Varying in geographical and industrial jurisdiction, the joint councils became important incubators for up-and-coming leadership and negotiating master agreements which covered all employers in a given industry. Tobin also actively discouraged strikes in order to bring discipline to the union and encourage employers to sign contracts, and founded and edited the union magazine, the International Teamster. [9] [10] [11] [29] [30] Under Tobin, the Teamsters also first developed the "regional conference" system (developed by Dave Beck in Seattle), which provided stability, organizing strength, and leadership to the international union. [10]

Tobin undertook long jurisdictional battles with many unions during this period. Fierce disputes occurred between the Teamsters and the Gasoline State Operators' National Council (an AFL federal union of gas station attendants), the International Longshoremen's Association, the Retail Clerks International Union, and the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks. [10] [31] The most significant disagreement, however, was with the United Brewery Workers over the right to represent beer wagon drivers. While the Teamsters lost this battle in 1913, when the AFL awarded jurisdiction to the Brewers, they won when the issue came before the AFL Executive Board again in 1933, when the Brewers were still recovering from their near-elimination during Prohibition. [10] [28] [32] [33] The raids and new member organizing in the 1930s led to significant membership increases. Teamster membership stood at just 82,000 in 1932. Tobin took advantage of the wave of pro-union sentiment engendered by the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act, and by 1935 union membership had increased nearly 65 percent to 135,000. By 1941, Tobin had a dues-paying membership of 530,000—making the Teamsters the fastest-growing labor union in the United States. [10]

One of the most significant events in union history occurred in 1934. A group of radicals in Local 574 in Minneapolis—led by Farrell Dobbs, Carl Skoglund, and the Dunne brothers (Ray, Miles and Grant), all members of the Trotskyist Communist League of America—began successfully organizing coal truck drivers in the winter of 1933. [34] Tobin, an ardent anti-communist, [35] opposed their efforts and refused to support their 1933 strike. [34] Local 574 struck again in 1934, leading to several riots over a nine-day period in May. [34] When the employers' association reneged on the agreement, Local 574 resumed the strike, although it ended again after nine days when martial law was declared by Governor Floyd B. Olson. [34] Although Local 574 won a contract recognizing the union and which broke the back of the anti-union Citizens Alliance in Minneapolis, Tobin expelled Local 574 from the Teamsters. Member outrage was extensive, and in August 1936 he was forced to recharter the local as 544. [10] [31] [34] [36] Within a year the newly formed Local 544 had organized 250,000 truckers in the Midwest and formed the Central Conference of Teamsters. [10] [31] [34] [36]

Extensive organizing also occurred in the West. Harry Bridges, radical leader of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU), was leading "the march inland"—an attempt to organize warehouse workers away from shipping ports. [10] [37] Alarmed by Bridges' radical politics and worried that the ILWU would encroach on Teamster jurisdictions, Dave Beck formed a large regional organization (the Western Conference of Teamsters) to engage in fierce organizing battles and membership raids against the ILWU which led to the establishment of many new locals and the organization of tens of thousands of new members. [10] [38]

But corruption became even more widespread in the Teamsters during the Tobin administration. By 1941, the union was considered the most corrupt in the United States, and the most abusive towards its own members. Tobin vigorously defended the union against such accusations, but also instituted many constitutional and organizational changes and practices which made it easier for union officials to engage in criminal offenses. [39]

World War II and the post-war period Edit

By the beginning of World War II, the Teamsters was one of the most powerful unions in the country, and Teamster leaders were influential in the corridors of power. Union membership had risen more than 390 percent between 1935 and 1941 to 530,000. [10] In June 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed IBT President Daniel J. Tobin to be the official White House liaison to organized labor, and later that year chair of the Labor Division of the Democratic National Committee. [10] [40] In 1942, President Roosevelt appointed Tobin special representative to the United Kingdom and charged him with investigating the state of the labor movement there. [41] Tobin was considered three times for Secretary of Labor, and twice refused the post—in 1943 and 1947. [42] On September 23, 1944, Roosevelt gave his famous "Fala speech" while campaigning in the 1944 presidential election. Because of Roosevelt's strong relationship with Tobin and the union's large membership, the President delivered his speech before the Teamster convention. [10]

Nonetheless, Teamsters members were restive. Dissident members of the union accused the leadership of suppressing democracy in the union, a charge President Tobin angrily denied. [43] Over the next year, Tobin cracked down on dissidents and trusted several large locals led by his political opponents. [44]

During World War II, The Teamsters strongly endorsed the American labor movement's no-strike pledge. The Teamsters agreed to cease raiding other unions and not strike for the duration of the national emergency. President Tobin even ordered Teamsters members to cross picket lines put up by other unions. Nevertheless, the national leadership sanctioned strikes by Midwestern truckers in August 1942, Southern truckers in October 1943, and brewery workers and milk delivery drivers in January 1945. [30] [45] The Teamsters did not, however, participate in the great post-war wave of labor strikes. In the two years following the cessation of hostilities, the Teamsters struck only three times: 10,000 truckers in New Jersey struck for two weeks workers at UPS struck nationwide for three weeks and workers at Railway Express Agency struck for almost a month. [46]

Teamsters leaders strongly opposed enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act and repeatedly called for its repeal. President Tobin, however, was one of the first labor leaders to sign the non-communist affidavit required by the law. [47]

The great wave of organizing which the union engaged in during the Great Depression and the war significantly boosted the political power of a number of regional Teamsters leaders, and the leadership of the union engaged in a number of power struggles in the post-war period. By 1949, the union's membership had topped one million. [48] Dave Beck (elected an international vice-president in 1940) was increasingly influential in the international union, and Tobin attempted to check his growing power but failed. [10] In 1946, Beck successfully overcame Tobin's opposition and won approval of an amendment to the union's constitution creating the post of executive vice-president. Beck then won the 1947 election to fill the position. [29] Beck also successfully opposed in 1947 a Tobin-backed dues increase to fund new organizing. [49] The following year, Beck was able to demand the ouster of the editor of International Teamster magazine and install his own man in the job. [50]

In 1948, Beck allied with his long-time rival Jimmy Hoffa and effectively seized control of the union. He announced a raid on the International Association of Machinists local at Boeing. Although President Dan Tobin publicly repudiated Beck's actions, Beck had more than enough support from Hoffa and other members of the executive board to force Tobin to back down. [51] Five months later, Beck won approval of a plan to dissolve the union's four divisions and replace them with 16 divisions organized around each of the major job categories in the union's membership. [52] In 1951, Tom Hickey, reformist leader of the Teamsters in New York City, won election to the Teamsters executive board. Tobin needed Beck's support to prevent Hickey's election, and Beck refused to give it. [53]

On September 4, 1952, Tobin announced he would step down as president of the Teamsters at the end of his term. [54] At the union's 1952 convention, Beck was elected General President and pushed through a number of changes intended to make it harder for a challenger to build the necessary majority to unseat a president or reject his policies. [55]

Influence of organized crime Edit

Beck was elected to the Executive Council of the AFL on August 13, 1953, but his election generated a tremendous political battle between AFL President George Meany, who supported his election, and federation vice presidents who felt Beck was corrupt and should not be elected to the post. [56] [57] Beck was the first Teamster president to negotiate a nationwide master contract and a national grievance arbitration plan, [58] established organizing drives in the Deep South [59] and the East, [60] and built the current Teamsters headquarters (the "Marble Palace") in Washington, D.C. on Louisiana Avenue NW (across a small plaza from the United States Senate). [61] But his intervention in a construction and a milk strike (both centered on New York City), and refusal to intervene in a Northeastern trucking strike created major political problems for him. [62] Perceiving Beck to be weak, Jimmy Hoffa began challenging Beck on various union decisions and policies in 1956 with an eye to unseating him as General President in the regularly scheduled union elections in 1957. [63]

Infiltration by organized crime dominated the agenda of the Teamsters throughout the 1950s. The Teamsters had suffered from extensive corruption since its formation in 1903. [12] [13] [14] Although the more extreme, public forms of corruption had been eliminated after General President Cornelius Shea was removed from office, the extent of corruption and control by organized crime increased during General President Tobin's time in office (1907 to 1952). [10] [13] [22] [64] In 1929, the Teamsters and unions in Chicago even approached gangster Roger Touhy and asked for his protection from Al Capone and his Chicago Outfit, which were seeking to control the area's unions. [65] Evidence of widespread corruption within the Teamsters began emerging shortly after Tobin retired. [66] In Kansas City, corrupt Teamsters locals spent years seeking bribes, embezzling money, and engaging in extensive extortion and labor rackets as well as beatings, vandalism and even bombings in an attempt to control the construction and trucking industries. [22] [67] The problem was so serious that the U.S. House of Representatives held hearings on the issue. [68]

Hoffa's attempt to challenge Beck caused a major national scandal which led to two Congressional investigations, several indictments for fraud and other crimes against Beck and Hoffa, strict new federal legislation and regulations regarding labor unions, and even helped launch the political career of Robert F. Kennedy. Believing he needed additional votes to unseat Beck, in October 1956 mobster Johnny Dio met with Hoffa in New York City and the two men conspired to create as many as 15 paper locals [69] to boost Hoffa's delegate totals. [70] [71] When the paper locals applied for charters from the international union, Hoffa's political foes were outraged. [63] [72] A major battle broke out within the Teamsters over whether to charter the locals, and the media attention led to inquiries by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the U.S. Senate Committee on Government Operations. [73] Beck and other Teamster leaders challenged the authority of the U.S. Senate to investigate the union, [74] [75] which caused the Senate to establish the Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management—a new committee with broad subpoena and investigative powers. [76] Senator John L. McClellan, chair of the select committee, hired Robert F. Kennedy as the subcommittee's chief counsel and investigator. [77]

The Select Committee (also known as the McClellan Committee, after its chairman), exposed widespread corruption in the Teamsters union. Dave Beck fled the country for a month to avoid its subpoenas before returning. [78] Four of the paper locals were dissolved to avoid committee scrutiny, several Teamster staffers were charged with contempt of Congress, and union records were lost or destroyed (allegedly on purpose), and wiretaps were played in public before a national television audience in which Dio and Hoffa discussed the creation of even more paper locals. [79] Evidence was unearthed of a mob-sponsored plot in which Oregon Teamsters unions would seize control of the state legislature, state police, and state attorney general's office through bribery, extortion and blackmail. [80] [81] [82] [83] [84] [85] [86] [87] [88] [89] Initially, members of the union did not believe the charges, and support for Beck was strong, [90] [91] but after three months of continuous allegations of wrongdoing many rank-and-file Teamsters withdrew their support and openly called for Beck to resign. [92] Beck initially refused to address the allegations, but broke his silence and denounced the committee's inquiry on March 6. [93] But even as the committee conducted its investigation, the Teamsters chartered even more paper locals. [94] In mid-March 1957, Jimmy Hoffa was arrested for allegedly trying to bribe a Senate aide. [95] Hoffa denied the charges, but the arrest triggered additional investigations and more arrests and indictments over the following weeks. [96] [97] [98] [99] A week later, Beck admitted to receiving an interest-free $300,000 loan from the Teamsters which he had never repaid, and Senate investigators claimed that loans to Beck and other union officials (and their businesses) had cost the union more than $700,000. [100] Beck appeared before the select committee for the first time on March 25, 1957, and invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 117 times. [101] The McClellan Committee turned its focus to Hoffa and other Teamsters officials, and presented testimony and evidence alleging widespread corruption in Hoffa-controlled Teamster units. [71] [102]

Several historic legal developments came out of the select committee's investigation. The scandals uncovered by the McClellan committee, which affected not only the Teamsters but several other unions, led directly to the passage of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act) in 1959. [103] The right of union officials to exercise their Fifth Amendment rights was upheld and a significant refinement of constitutional law made when the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the right of union officials to not divulge the location of union records in Curcio v. United States, 354 U.S. 118 (1957). [104]

Rank-and-file anger over the McClellan Committee's revelations eventually led Beck to retire from the Teamsters and allowed Jimmy Hoffa to take over. Immediately after his testimony in late March 1957, Beck won approval from the union's executive board to establish a $1 million fund to defend himself and the union from the committee's allegations. [105] But member outrage at the expenditure was significant, and permission to establish the fund rescinded. [106] Member anger continued to grow throughout the spring, [107] and Beck's majority support on the executive board vanished. [108] Beck was called before the McClellan Committee again in early May 1957, and additional interest-free loans and other potentially illegal and unethical financial transactions exposed. [109] Based on these revelations, Beck was indicted for tax evasion on May 2, 1957. [110]

Beck's legal troubles led him to retire and Hoffa to win election to the union presidency. Support for Beck among the membership evaporated. [111] Beck announced on May 25 he would not run for re-election in October. [112] The announcement created chaos among the union leadership, [113] and despite additional indictments Hoffa announced he would seek the presidency on July 19. [114] Rank-and-file support for Hoffa was strong, [115] although there were some attempts to organize an opposition candidate. [116] Hoffa's opponents asked a federal judge to postpone the election, but the request was granted only temporarily and Hoffa was duly elected General President of the union on October 4, 1957. [117] Beck offered to retire early to allow Hoffa to take control of the union in December. [118] A federal district court barred Hoffa from taking power unless he was acquitted in his wiretapping trial. [119] The ruling was upheld by a court of appeals, but the trial ended in a hung jury on December 19, 1957, and Hoffa assumed the presidency on February 1, 1958. [120]

The worsening corruption scandal led the AFL–CIO to eject the Teamsters. AFL–CIO President George Meany, worried that corruption scandals plaguing a number of unions at the time might lead to harsh regulation of unions or even the withdrawal of federal labor law protection, began an anti-corruption drive in April 1956. [121] New rules were enacted by the labor federation's executive council that provided for the removal of vice presidents engaged in corruption as well as the ejection of unions considered corrupt. [122] The McClellan Committee's investigation only worsened the dispute between the AFL–CIO and the Teamsters. [123] In January 1957, the AFL–CIO proposed a new rule which would bar officers of the federation from continuing to hold office if they exercised their Fifth Amendment rights in a corruption investigation. [124] Beck opposed the new rule, [125] but the Ethical Practices Committee of AFL–CIO instituted the rule on January 31, 1957. [126] The Teamsters were given 90 days to reform, [127] but Beck retaliated by promising more raids on AFL–CIO member unions if the union was ousted. [128] Beck's opposition prompted a successful move by Meany to remove Beck from AFL–CIO executive council on grounds of corruption. [129] After extensive hearings and appeals which lasted from July to September 1957, the AFL–CIO voted on September 25, 1957, to eject the Teamsters if the union did not institute reforms within 30 days. [130] Beck refused to institute any reforms, and the election of Jimmy Hoffa (whom the AFL–CIO considered as corrupt as Beck) led the labor federation to suspend the Teamsters union on October 24, 1957. [131] Meany offered to keep the Teamsters within the AFL–CIO if Hoffa resigned as president, but Hoffa refused and the formal expulsion occurred on December 6, 1957. [132]

The Teamsters were not the only corrupt union in the AFL–CIO by any means. Another was the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA), which represented stevedores in most East Coast ports. The Teamsters had long desired to bring all shipping and transportation workers into the union, so that no product could be moved anywhere in the U.S. without it being touched by Teamsters hands. As the ILA came under increasing attack for permitting corruption in its locals, President Beck sought to bring the ILA into the Teamsters. [133] The AFL ousted the ILA in September 1953, and formed the International Brotherhood of Longshoremen-AFL (IBL-AFL) to represent longshoremen on the Great Lakes and East Coast. [134] The Teamsters planned to raid the expelled union, and may even have hoped to seize control of the IBL-AFL. [135] Beck undertook a campaign to bring the ILA back into the AFL in early 1955, [136] but the election of mob associate Anthony "Tough Tony" Anastasio as an ILA vice president forced Beck to end the effort. [137] But even as Beck backed away from any ILA deal, Jimmy Hoffa secretly negotiated a major package of financial and staff aid to the ILA and then went public with the deal—forcing Beck to accept it as a fait accompli or risk embarrassing Hoffa. [138] The AFL–CIO threatened to expel the Teamsters if it aided the ILA. [139] Beck fought Hoffa over the ILA aid package and won, withdrawing the offer to the ILA in the spring of 1956. [140]

The ILA was not the only union the Teamsters sought to merge with. The union attempted to merge with the Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers in 1955, but the effort failed. [141] The union also sought a merger with the Brewery Workers, but the smaller union rejected the offer. [142] When the overture failed, the Teamsters raided the Brewery Workers, leading to fierce protests by the CIO. [143]

Raiding by the Teamsters was such a serious issue that it prompted the AFL and CIO, which had attempted to sign a no-raid agreement for years, to finally negotiate and implement such a pact in December 1953. [144] President Beck initially refused to sign the agreement, and threatened to take the Teamsters out of the AFL if forced to adhere to it. [145] Three months after the pact was signed, the Teamsters agreed to submit to the terms of the no-raid agreement. [146] Shortly thereafter, the AFL adopted Article 20 of its constitution, which prevented its member unions from raiding one another. [147] The union's affection for raiding led it to initially oppose the AFL–CIO merger in January 1955, but it quickly reversed itself. [148]

Rise, fall, and disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa Edit

Hoffa achieved his goal of unifying all freight drivers under a single collective bargaining agreement, the National Master Freight Agreement, in 1964. Hoffa used the grievance procedures of the agreement, which authorized selective strikes against particular employers, to police the agreement or, if Hoffa thought that it served the union's interest, to drive marginal employers out of the industry. The union won substantial gains for its members, fostering a nostalgic image of the Hoffa era as the golden age for Teamster drivers. Hoffa also succeeded where Tobin had failed, concentrating power at the international level, dominating the conferences which Beck and Dobbs had helped build.

In addition, Hoffa was instrumental in using the assets of the Teamsters' pension plans, particularly the Central States plan, to support Mafia projects, such as the development of Las Vegas in the 1950s and 1960s. Pension funds were loaned to finance Las Vegas casinos such as the Stardust Resort & Casino, the Fremont Hotel & Casino, the Desert Inn, the Dunes hotel and casino (which was controlled by Hoffa's attorney, Morris Shenker), the Four Queens, the Aladdin Hotel & Casino, Circus Circus, and Caesars Palace. The pension fund also made a number of loans to associates and relatives of high-ranking Teamster officials. A close associate of Hoffa during this period was Allen Dorfman. Dorfman owned an insurance agency that provided insurance claims processing to the Teamsters' union, and which was the subject of an investigation by the McClellan Committee. Dorfman also had increasing influence over loans made by the Teamsters' pension fund, and after Hoffa went to prison in 1967, Dorfman had primary control over the fund. Dorfman was murdered in January 1983, shortly after his conviction, along with Teamsters' president Roy Lee Williams, in a bribery case. [149]

Hoffa was, moreover, defiantly unwilling to reform the union or limit his own power in response to the attacks from Robert F. Kennedy, formerly chief counsel to the McClellan Committee, then Attorney General. Kennedy's Department of Justice tried to convict Hoffa for a variety of offenses over the 1960s, finally succeeding on a witness tampering charge in 1964, with key testimony provided by Teamsters business agent Edward Grady Partin of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After exhausting his appeals, Hoffa entered prison in 1967.

Hoffa installed Frank Fitzsimmons, an associate from his days in Local 299 in Detroit, to hold his place for him while he served time. Fitzsimmons, however, began to enjoy the exercise of power in Hoffa's absence in addition, the organized crime figures around him found that he was more pliant than Hoffa had been. While President Nixon's pardon barred Hoffa from resuming any role in the Teamsters until 1980, Hoffa challenged the legality of that condition and planned to run again for presidency of the union, but disappeared in 1975 under mysterious circumstances. He is presumed dead, although his body has never been found.

Decentralization, deregulation and drift Edit

Under General President Frank Fitzsimmons, authority within the Teamsters was decentralized back into the hands of regional, joint council, and local leaders. While this helped solidify Fitzsimmons' own political position in the union, it also made it more difficult for the union to act decisively on policy issues. Fitzsimmons also moved the union's political stands slowly to the left, supporting universal health care, an immediate end to the Vietnam War, urban renewal, and community organizing. In 1968, Fitzsimmons and United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther formed the Alliance for Labor Action, a new national trade union center which competed with the AFL–CIO. The Alliance dissolved in 1972 after Reuther's death. While the Teamsters won rich national master contracts in trucking and package delivery in the 1970s, it did little to adapt to the changes occurring in the transportation industry.

A major jurisdictional battle with the United Farm Workers (UFW) broke out in 1970, and did not end until 1977. The Teamsters and UFW had both claimed jurisdiction over farm workers for many years, and in 1967 had signed an agreement settling their differences. But decentralization of power within the union led several Teamster leaders in California to repudiate this agreement without Fitzsimmons' permission and organize large numbers of field workers. His hand forced, Fitzsimmons ordered Teamsters contract negotiators to re-open the handful of contracts it had signed with California growers. [150] The UFW sued, the AFL–CIO condemned the action, and many employers negotiated contracts with the Teamsters rather than with the UFW. [151] The Teamsters subsequently signed contracts (which many denounced as sweetheart deals) with more than 375 California growers. [152] [153] Although an agreement giving UFW jurisdiction over field workers and the Teamsters jurisdiction over packing and warehouse workers was reached on September 27, 1973, Fitzsimmons reneged on the agreement within a month and moved ahead with forming a farm workers regional union in California. [154] [155] The organizing battles even became violent at times. [156] By 1975, the UFW had won 24 elections and the Teamsters 14 UFW membership had plummeted to just 6,000 from nearly 70,000 while the Teamsters farmworker division counted 55,000 workers. [152] [154] The UFW signed an agreement with Fitzsimmons in March 1977 in which the UFW agreed to seek to organize only those workers covered by the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, while the Teamsters retained jurisdiction over some agricultural workers, who had been covered by Teamsters Local Union contracts prior to the formation of the UFW. [157]

In October 1973, Fitzsimmons ended the long-running jurisdictional dispute with the United Brewery Workers, and the Brewery Workers merged with the Teamsters. [158]

In 1979 Congress passed legislation that deregulated the freight industry, removing the Interstate Commerce Commission's power to impose detailed regulatory tariffs on interstate carriers. The union tried to fight deregulation by attempting to bribe Senator Howard Cannon of Nevada. That attempt not only failed, but resulted in the conviction in 1982 of Roy Williams, the General President who had succeeded Fitzsimmons in 1981. Williams subsequently resigned in 1983 as a condition of remaining free on bail while his appeal proceeded.

Deregulation had catastrophic effects on the Teamsters, opening up the industry to competition from non-union companies who sought to cut costs by avoiding unionization and curbing wages. Nearly 200 unionized carriers went out of business in the first few years of deregulation, leaving thirty percent of Teamsters in the freight division unemployed. The remaining unionized carriers demanded concessions in wages, work rules, and hours.

Williams' successor, Jackie Presser, was prepared to grant most of these concessions in the form of a special freight "relief rider" that would cut wages by up to 35 percent and establish two-tier wages. Teamsters for a Democratic Union, which had grown out of efforts to reject the 1976 freight agreement, launched a successful national campaign to defeat the relief rider, which was defeated by a vote of 94,086 to 13,082.

The pressure on the freight industry and the national freight agreement continued, however. By the end of the 1990s the National Master Freight Agreement, which had covered 500,000 drivers in the late 1970s, dropped to fewer than 200,000, with numerous local riders weakening it further in some areas.

Internal and external challenges Edit

The decline in working conditions in the freight industry, combined with long-simmering unhappiness among members employed by the United Parcel Service, led to the development of two nationwide dissident groups within the union in the 1980s: Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), an assemblage of a number of local efforts, and the Professional Drivers Council, better known as PROD, which began as a public interest group affiliated with Ralph Nader that was concerned with worker safety. The two groups merged in 1979.

TDU was able to win some local offices within the union, although the International Union often attempted to make those victories meaningless by marginalizing the officer or the union. TDU acquired greater prominence, however, with the election reforms forced on the union by the consent decree it had entered into in 1989 on the eve of trial on a suit brought by the federal government under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

The decree required the direct election of International officers by the membership, as TDU had been demanding for years leading up to the decree, to replace the indirect election by delegates at the union's convention. While the delegates at the union's 1991 convention balked at amending the Constitution, they ultimately capitulated under pressure from the government.

That consent decree might not have been possible, however, if it had not been for the testimony of Roy Williams, who described, in an affidavit he gave the government in return for a delay of his imprisonment, his own dealings with organized crime as the Secretary-Treasurer of a local union in Kansas City and as an officer of the International Union. The decree also gave the government the power to install an Independent Review Board with the power to expel any member of the union for "conduct unbecoming to the union", which the IRB proceeded to exercise far more aggressively than the Teamsters officials who had agreed to the decree had expected.

While the government was pursuing a civil case against the union as an entity it was also indicting Presser, who had succeeded Williams as General President, for embezzling from two different local unions in Cleveland prior to his election as President. Presser resigned in 1988, but died before his trial was scheduled to begin. He was succeeded by William J. McCarthy, who came from the same local that Dan Tobin had led eighty years earlier.

The Independent Review Board (IRB) is a three-member panel established to investigate and take appropriate action with respect to "any allegations of corruption," "any allegations of domination or control or influence" of any part of the Union by organized crime, and any failure to cooperate fully with the IRB. [159]

Recent history Edit

In 1991, Ron Carey won a surprising victory in the first direct election for General President in the union's history, defeating two "old guard" candidates, R.V. Durham and Walter Shea. Carey's slate, supported by TDU, also won nearly all of the seats on the International Executive Board.

Carey acquired a fair amount of influence within the AFL–CIO, which had readmitted the Teamsters in 1985. Carey was close with the new leadership elected in 1995, particularly Richard Trumka of the United Mine Workers of America, who became Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL–CIO under John Sweeney. Carey had also swung the Teamsters support behind the Democratic Party, a change from past administrations that had supported the Republican Party. The new administration set out to break from the past in other ways, making energetic efforts to head off a vote to oust the union as representative of Northwest Airlines' flight attendants, negotiating a breakthrough agreement covering carhaulers, and supporting local strikes, such as the one against Diamond Walnut, to restore the union's strength.

The Carey administration did not, on the other hand, have much power in the lower reaches of the Teamster hierarchy: all of the large regional conferences were run by "old guard" officers, as were most of the locals. Disagreements between those two camps led the old guard to campaign against the Carey administration's proposed dues increase the Carey administration retaliated by dissolving the regional conferences, calling them expensive redundancies and fiefdoms for old guard union officers. and rearranging the boundaries of some joint councils that had fought against the dues increase.

The opposition responded by uniting around a single candidate, James P. Hoffa, son of James R. Hoffa, to run against Carey in 1996. Hoffa ran a strong campaign, trading on the mystique still attached to his late father's name and promising to restore those days of glory. Carey appeared, however, to have won a close election.

Shortly afterward in 1997, the union initiated a large and successful strike against UPS. The parcel services department by that time had become the largest division in the union.

Carey was removed from the union's leadership by the IRB shortly thereafter, when evidence that individuals in his office had arranged for transfer of several thousand dollars to an outside contractor, which then arranged for another entity to make an equivalent contribution to the Carey campaign. Carey was indicted for lying to investigators about his campaign funding but was acquitted of all charges in a 2001 trial.

In the 1998 election to succeed Carey, James P. Hoffa was elected handily. He became president of the Teamsters on March 19, 1999, and took the union in a more moderate direction, tempering the union's support for Democrats and attempting to come to terms with powerful Republicans in Congress.

The union has merged in recent years with a number of unions from other industries, including the Graphic Communications International Union, a printing industry union, and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, both from the railway industry.

On July 25, 2005, the Teamsters disaffiliated from the AFL–CIO and became a founding member of the new national trade union center, the Change to Win Federation. [161]

In 2009, UPS, many employees of which are members of the Teamsters, lobbied to have language added to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009 (H.R. 915) to change how UPS and FedEx compete with one another. In response, FedEx launched a large, online advertising campaign aimed at UPS and the Teamsters, called 'Stop the Brown Bailout'.

Prior to the 1970s, no long-lived caucuses existed within the Teamsters union. Challengers for office ran on their personal appeal and individual power base, rather than on caucus or "party" platforms and such challenges were infrequent. The Teamster leadership was well-established and somewhat self-perpetuating, and challengers only rarely achieved victories at the local and (even less frequently) regional levels. [162] This changed in the 1970s. A national wildcat strike challenged President Frank Fitzsimmons' control over the union, but failed. After the strike, a reform movement known as "Teamsters United Rank and File" (TURF) formed to continue to challenge against the union's national leadership. But TURF collapsed after a few years due to internal dissent. [163] In 1975, two new caucuses formed: Teamsters for a Decent Contract (TDC) and UPSurge. Both groups pushed the national leadership for a vastly improved contracts at UPS and the freight lines. [163]

In 1976 a new formal caucus, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), formed when TDC and UPSurge merged. The new caucus' goal was to make internal Teamster governance more transparent and democratic, which included giving rank-and-file more of a say in the terms and approval of contracts. [164]

In the 1980s, TDU occasionally won elections for positions on local councils, but it was not until 1983—when the TDU forced President Jackie Presser to withdraw and make changes to a concession-laden National Master Freight Agreement—that TDU had a national impact. [165] TDU publicized the very centralized and not very transparent national union decision-making process, criticized what it said was lack of member input into these decisions, and published contract, salary, membership, and other data critical of the national union leadership. These criticisms led to another success for TDU, with many TDU proposals finding their way into the 1988 court decree in which the federal government took over of the Teamsters. [164] [166] Although the TDU has never won the presidency of the national union as of mid-2013, it strongly supported Ron Carey for the presidency in 1991. Carey, in turn, adopted many of TDU's reform proposals as part of his platform. Carey ran with nearly a full slate (which included a candidate for secretary-treasurer and 13 vice presidencies). [167] R.V. Durham, leader of the Teamsters in North Carolina, was considered the "establishment" candidate and front-runner in the campaign (he had the backing of a majority of the union's executive board). A second candidate in the race, Walter Shea, was a veteran union staffer from Washington, D.C. Carey won with 48.5 percent of the vote to Durham's 33.2 percent and Shea's 18.3 percent. (Turnout was low, only about 32 percent of the union's total membership.) [168] Carey's election, sociologist Charlotte Ryan says, was another success for TDU (even though Carey was not a TDU candidate). [164]

Carey won re-election in 1996 in a corrupt election, defeating James P. Hoffa (son of the former union president). Prior to entering the race, Hoffa formed a caucus of his own, the "Hoffa Unity Slate", to counter the grassroots organizing of TDU and Carey. [169] Carey was later ousted as union president by U.S. government officials. A re-run election in 1998 saw Hoffa and the Unity Slate easily defeat TDU candidate Tom Leedham 54.5 percent to 39.3 percent (with 28 percent turnout). [170]

Hoffa was re-elected over Leedham (again running on the TDU platform) in 2001, 64.8 percent to 35.2 percent. [163] Leedham challenged Hoffa and the Hoffa Unity Slate a third time in 2006, losing 65 percent to 35 percent (with 25 percent turnout). [171] Hoffa faced TDU candidate Sandy Pope, a local union president, in 2011. [172] Also running, with a full slate of officer and vice presidential candidates, was former Hoffa supporter and former national vice president Fred Gegare. Hoffa again easily won re-election, earning 60 percent of the vote to Gregare's 23 percent and Pope's 17 percent. The Hoffa Unity Slate also won all five regional vice presidencies, although the slate's support declined across the board. [173] Hoffa won reelection once more in 2016, this time against Teamsters United candidate Fred Zuckerman, but by a much narrower margin of 52 to 48 percent. The 2016 election was also the first time Hoffa-allied candidates lost regional vice presidencies to the Teamsters United reform slate. [174]

The Teamsters Union is one of the largest labor unions in the world, as well as the 11th largest campaign contributor in the United States. While they supported Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush for President in the 1980s, they have begun leaning largely toward the Democrats in recent years they have donated 92% of their $24,418,589 in contributions since 1990 to the Democratic Party. Though the union opposed former President George W. Bush's agenda to open US highways to Mexican truckers, it did previously support Bush's platform for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. [175] On July 23, 2008, however, Hoffa announced the union's withdrawal from the coalition favoring drilling there. Speaking before environmentalists and union leaders assembled to discuss good jobs and clean air, Hoffa said, "We are not going to drill our way out of the energy problems we are facing—not here and not in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." [176]

The Teamsters Union endorsed Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic Nomination on February 20, 2008. [177]

In the 2016 presidential election, the Teamsters endorsed Hillary Clinton on August 26, 2016. [178]

The Teamsters Union also makes an annual contribution to Friends of Sinn Féin—the US fundraising arm of Irish republican party Sinn Féin. [179] [180]

Ronald Reagan Paved the Way for Donald Trump

Democracy is bad for business. Fearful of what employees would do if they had power in the workplace, corporations have used every strategy conceivable to keep them in line and democracy in check.

And yet there was a time, hard as it might be to imagine now, when labor was on the ascendency. Many have even claimed that there was a social compact between capital and labor following the end of the Second World War: employers dumped the Pinkertons for productivity gains and workers agreed to swap picket signs for picket fences and the promise of an ever-increasing quality of life. Then, somewhere between the Tet Offensive and the Reagan Revolution, it all started to come crashing down for the labor movement — and has yet to recover.

What happened and why? Lane Windham, associate director of Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, offers some intriguing answers in her new book, Knocking on Labor’s Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide.

Labor Notes staff writer Chris Brooks recently spoke with her about the promise and peril of union organizing in the “long 1970s” and how that history should inform strategies for building worker power today.

Your book describes unions as the “narrow door” through which workers accessed our nation’s fullest social welfare system. What do you mean?

If you are German or French, you don’t have to join a union to have access to health care or retirement. Those are benefits provided as a matter of citizenship. In our country, employers provide those benefits to workers. How do we ensure that corporations step up to play this role? Through firm-level collective bargaining. So unions play a critical role in our social welfare system — they do the redistribution work that governments do in many other countries.

There are three ways that workers can access this social welfare system: they can form a union, they can get a job in a company that is already unionized, or they can get a job at a company that is matching union wages and benefits. Either way, someone at sometime had to organize a union for this to be possible.

So organizing a union is the narrow door through which working people access our nation’s most robust social welfare benefits. My book focuses on the 1970s, a period where we see women and people of color driving a wave of union organizing after gaining new access to the job market as a result of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

You describe Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as the single biggest challenge to employers’ workplace power since the passage of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. Why?

The National Labor Relations Act, or the Wagner Act, was a huge challenge to corporations. It provided a legal process through which workers can win a union and compel companies to negotiate a contract with them. In many ways, it was the answer to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s big labor question: how are we going to deal with the contradiction between the promise of democracy and the realities of industrial capitalism?

The Wagner Act was a compromise that excluded many women and people of color by excluding domestic service and agricultural jobs. This was one of the major limitations of the New Deal promise, but with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, all those workers who had been relegated to the margins of industrial capitalism suddenly had access to jobs in the core.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, color, religion, or national origin. The narrow door was suddenly open to everybody, and you see this great rush of women and people of color into unions. In 1960, only 18 percent of the nation’s union members were women, but by 1984, 34 percent of union members were women. By 1973, a full 44 percent of black men in the private sector had a union.

When I think of the working class in the 1970s, the first image that comes to my mind is Archie Bunker: the white, blue-collar, hard-hat wearing conservative union member that wants to beat up hippies. But you argue for a very different image of the working class in this period.

Today’s working class is majority women and disproportionately people of color. That change started in the 1970s.

On the show, All in the Family, Archie Bunker was a loading dock supervisor. In my book, I feature the story of Arthur Banks, an African American who was an actual loading dock supervisor at a department store in Washington DC. He surreptitiously supported the union, even though it could have gotten him fired, because he knew it would lift wages for everyone, supervisors included. So Archie Bunker is the image that has stayed with us, but Arthur Banks is the image I argue we should have.

How were people like Arthur Banks informed and influenced by the social movements of the preceding decade?

An entire new generation of union activists were coming of age in an era in which their consciousness of their rights had been dramatically expanded. The civil rights and women’s movements were fuel to the labor movement: if racism and sexism are no longer acceptable, then why should we accept the power of the boss?

One of my favorite quotes in the book is by a shipyard worker named Alton Glass. He had followed his father into the Newport News shipyard. Glass’s dad was the son of sharecroppers and had spent most of his life in the segregated South. In the 1970s, Glass was a young union activist who took on racism and unfair treatment in the shipyard, and he had this great quote: “Where my dad told me to shut up, I wouldn’t shut up. And my supervisors, who were older and white, would expect me to shut up. And I wouldn’t.” Glass had a different experience coming out of these rights movements that informed his union activism. He would later go on to serve as the president of his local Steelworkers union.

Many women in the 1970s also took the ideas of equity from the previous decade’s women’s movement and used them in the office sphere to demand raises and respect and access to better jobs. They challenged workplace culture. Many women began refusing to act like a coffee-fetching “office wife” for their boss. Millions of women joined the workforce in this decade, and many were at the forefront of union organizing campaigns.

You saw this in the 1979 blockbuster Norma Rae, which was based off of the famous textile workers’ organizing campaign at the J. P. Stevens mattress manufacturing plant in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Women were definitely key to that campaign, especially black women. It was actually won because of the dramatic influx of black workers to the facility, who brought with them an interest in unionizing.

You argue that contrary to what many believe, there was no decline in labor organizing in this period — that the 1970s saw not only an “unheralded wave” of private sector workers voting in union elections, but also the largest strike wave since 1946 and the birth of multiple union reform movements.

A lot of the historiography on the 1970s is focused on decline. Jefferson Cowie, in his book Staying Alive, talks about that decade as “the last days of the working class.” Cowie was just picking up on the dominant narrative among labor historians, who have almost universally focused on the percentage of the workforce that had a union or the number of workers winning union elections. Both of those figures drop in this decade.

I tell a different story, and I do it by looking at different data. I looked at National Labor Relations Board election records and at the number of workers voting in union elections across the decades, regardless of whether they won or not. If you look at these figures, what you see is that the number of workers voting in elections is consistent across the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Workers in the seventies were voting in union elections in very high numbers, despite a huge increase in employer resistance. The number of workers voting in union elections dropped significantly in the 1980s and has never returned to the numbers reached in the 1970s.

The decade was also a high-water mark for huge strikes. In 1970, one in six union members went out on strike. This included the massive, illegal strike of 150,000 postal workers, which was the largest wildcat strike in US history. This was the largest strike wave since 1946 and continued on through the end of the decade. Miners struck for 110 days, until President Carter invoked the Taft-Hartley Act to force them back to work. There were huge Teamster strikes and airline strikes. Seventy-five thousand independent truck drivers struck and left vegetables rotting up and down the nation’s highways. For those of us today, this kind of rampant strike activity is almost inconceivable.

The same young people driven by an expanding consciousness of their rights to form unions were also fighting to make their unions more democratic. This was the decade that saw the birth of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement and Teamsters for a Democratic Union and Steelworkers Fight Back, which pushed for greater militancy and racial diversity in the failed presidential bid of Ed Sadlowski. Women unionists founded the Coalition of Labor Union Women, or CLUW, in 1974 to assert their rights as union members and women. CLUW pushed the AFL to support the Equal Rights Amendment and to make child care and maternity leave union goals.

Many labor histories also completely ignore Solidarity Day in 1981, which was the largest rally ever staged by the US labor movement, because it doesn’t fit well with the simplistic picture of labor’s decline in this period.

It’s really hard to find information on Solidarity Day. It’s not covered by history textbooks and even by labor history books, which is astounding. Between 250,000 and 400,000 people rallied in the Solidarity Day protest, which makes it larger than or comparable to the 1963 March on Washington. This was in the middle of the PATCO strike, so people were not flying. Instead they rode in on 3,000 chartered buses and a dozen specially chartered Amtrak trains. To make sure everyone could get around, the AFL actually bought out the DC Metro so everyone could ride the trains for free.

When I was researching this I went back to the original sources and looked at the labor newspapers from that time, which were filled with pictures. Looking at photos from the march, it was so clear to me that this group, by 1981, is far more diverse than it would have been just twenty years before. The Civil Rights Act had transformed the workplace, but it also transformed the labor movement.

You also argue that labor scholars like Kim Moody have placed too much of the blame for labor’s fate on the growing labor bureaucracy and have under-emphasized the severity of the employer offensive beginning in this period, is that correct?

I think Kim Moody would agree that the seventies was a decade of growing labor radicalism. In fact, he wrote an essay more or less arguing that in the fabulous book Rebel Rank and File, which included really fantastic essays on strikes, union democracy movements, and public sector organizing. But what the book does not include is anything on private sector union organizing. I think what my research adds to this discussion is an analysis of what the most potent barriers to private sector worker organizing were in this period.

When social benefits are provided as a condition of employment, employers are incentivized to reduce or even completely abandon their obligations by fighting unionization. During the long 1970s, employers came under increasing competitive pressures from globalization. Increased competitive pressures further incentivized employers to reduce labor costs by keeping workers from organizing and to begin demanding concessions from unionized employees. Globalization was also weaponized by employers, who made threats to shut down or offshore plants if employees unionized. So there is a larger economic system that created the conditions for an emboldened employer offensive.

It is definitely true that some unions were too bureaucratic. One reason for this is that unions are charged with administering parts of the employer-based welfare regime while also trying to expand it, and this creates many issues for unions. Nevertheless, I believe that the bulk of the evidence for why unions were not winning labor board elections in this period implicates the employers and structural barriers to organizing rather than the union bureaucracy.

So the rise of global competition and the declining rate of profit led many companies to say, “I can’t control that we are becoming part of a globally integrated capitalist system, but I can control labor costs.”

That is exactly right. From the end of World War II to the mid 1960s, life is good and US business is at its peak and has free global reign. From about 1965 to 1973, things begin to turn. The rate of profit for US businesses falls, especially for manufacturers, who are hit especially hard by global competition and advances in shipping and containerization. Then there are a series of shocks: recession, inflation, the oil crisis. In response, economic power starts to turn away from manufacturing and towards finance. Financiers start treating corporations not as sites of production but as tradable assets.

So one of the ways that businesses react to the declining rate of profit in this period is by targeting labor costs, and especially by getting out from under the weight of their social benefit obligations. Businesses start by breaking down the entire employment relationship and pushing down labor standards. They try to sidestep being on the hook for full-time employees by hiring higher numbers of part-time workers and subcontractors. This is the basis for the rise of contingent workers and what David Weil has come to call “the fissured workplace.”

They also begin fighting union campaigns by firing union activists in exponentially higher numbers and systematically violating the law to thwart organizing drives. Businesses also become more politicized in this period — they organize the Business Roundtable and form many political action committees.

So there are many responses made by the business community to respond to the crisis they are facing. It’s not just attacking unions, but that is a very important part of their strategy for addressing the crisis of declining profits.

According to the data you present in your book, unions won about 80 percent of labor board elections in the 1940s, but that number goes into free-fall in the 1970s and never recovers. What accounts for the precipitous drop?

Employers do three things in the 1970s that make it much, much more difficult for workers to organize unions.

First, they become so much more willing to bend and break the law. Employers began to figure out what exactly you could say to workers to threaten them and get away with it. They also just started routinely breaking the law. The number of Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges, which are filed if an employer breaks federal labor law, doubled in this decade, as did the number of illegal firings.

The way a union election works in this country is that 30 percent of workers have to sign a union card or petition saying they want an election. Most unions don’t file for an election unless at least half of workers have signed a card. Then you file the cards with the government, which organizes an election, which takes ten to twelve weeks. During that time, the employer has free rein to campaign against the union. Managers pull workers into mandatory attendance meetings in which they attack the union, they pull them into one-on-one meetings on the floor. Meanwhile, the union is not allowed on the property. Oftentimes, workers that initially supported the union end up voting against it because the company has scared them so badly. By 1977, workers are winning less than half of the elections that they themselves filed for due to the tremendous impact that employer campaigns have on the organizing drive.

Secondly, even unionized employers at the core of the economy, such as GM, US Steel, and Goodwrench begin to viciously fight worker efforts to unionize. I broke down ULP charges by sector during this period. I expected to see more ULPs in the retail and service sectors because those are the less unionized industries and, therefore, where I assumed employers fought the hardest. I was really surprised because by the 1970s, employees in manufacturing were facing more employer law-breaking than those in the retail or service industries. Companies that were unionized in one place were fighting their workers in other places.

Lastly, employers begin relying heavily on union busters. American universities started teaching practices for resisting unionization in their business schools. Historians may not have known that women and people of color were organizing in the 1970s, but the employers and consultants certainly did. The consultants bred fear about the diversifying workforce to gin up business. One union buster developed a “union vulnerability audit.” How do you determine how vulnerable you are to a union? Well, you count the number of women and people of color in the workplace.

The total effect of the consultants and employers being willing and able to break the law with impunity is that it renders labor law protections for worker organizers meaningless by the end of the decade.

One response to losing elections is to stop running elections.

Exactly. And this bring us to the early 1980s, where the story changes. Half a million workers had been participating in union elections throughout the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, but by the 1980s the numbers plummet. By 1983, only 160,000 workers participate in union elections. The number fluctuates over the years, but never rises above a quarter of a million and never gets anywhere close to the number of workers that were routinely trying to organize in the 1970s.

So the union busting in the 1970s really culminates in the massive declines we see in the 1980s?

Most people mark the era of union busting as having started with Reagan’s decision to fire the striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) in 1981, but what my book shows is that PATCO was really the tail end of the last decade of union busting and employer resistance to organizing. By firing PATCO’s 11,000 members and calling in the military to replace them, Reagan normalized the aggressive strike-breaking and union-busting agenda that had already become common in the private sector.

There was the Volcker recession, which crushed union membership in the manufacturing sector. I was stunned by the enormity of union membership loss over a five-year period. For example, both the United Auto Workers and the United Steelworkers lost 40 percent of their membership.

So in this environment, unions begin to pull back from organizing and start running 30 to 50 percent fewer elections. Not just in manufacturing unions that were slammed by the recession, even unions like SEIU (Service Employees International Union) are running fewer elections.

I think that many of these unions just went into a defensive mode and assumed that things would get better after Reagan left office, but they didn’t. Unions never returned to the reliance on labor board elections for growth that we saw in the decades prior to the 1980s.

And the employer offensive launched in the 1970s and sustained through today is also one of the biggest culprits for the dramatic increase in income inequality we have seen over the past four decades.

That is right. According to research from Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld, one-third of the income inequality among men and one-fifth of the income inequality among women can be attributed to the drop in union density since 1973.

That takes into account what is called “the union threat,” which is a name that I really hate, and refers to the fact that employers will take into account the gains in wages and health care made in union contracts and offer them to non-union workers to disincentive unionization. So once unions become weak, it not only hurts workers in that one particular workplace or sector, but in the entire economy, because there is no longer the “threat” of a union to come in and further raise wages and benefits.

So how do we fix this situation?

Well, first, I think we need to all accept that our employer-based social welfare system is fundamentally flawed. And I don’t think you can fix it by just tinkering with existing labor law. Benefits like pensions and health care need to be unhinged from employers, especially now that employers are becoming so successful at unhinging themselves from the employment relationship.

So I don’t want anyone to think that the problem was just Reagan, because then the solution is to simply replace Reagan, which obviously hasn’t worked. What we really need is to build an entirely new social welfare system.

Additionally, this is no time for “fortress unionism,” but for rethinking our understanding of how workers organize. The tools that workers have been given, this weak labor law, is no match for how our employment system is set up and how employers are running their businesses. We have to radically rethink how workers can organize and fight and explore options alongside collective bargaining, not instead of, through which workers can build power.

There are examples. The Fight for $15, the tens of thousands of workers that went on strike for the “Day Without Immigrants,” and the #MeToo movement are all examples of how the labor movement is adapting in the twenty-first century. Collective bargaining–based organizations are part of the movement, but are not the full movement.

So I think it is critically important that we stop accepting a definition of union membership that is defined by the government and the collective bargaining relationship. Fight for $15 activists don’t get counted in government surveys of union members, but they are part of our movement. I think that we need to focus less on the official numbers of union density and focus instead on building worker power.

Decline of industrial relations

After the war the government became an increasingly large employer. One result of this was the formation of two large unions for public sector workers: Confederation of Health Service Employees (COHSE) and the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) were both formed in 1964. There were also an increasing number of white-collar workers forming and joining trade unions. The relationship between government and the unions began to deteriorate in the 1960s, as the rising numbers of union members to a great extent were a response to government policies on prices and wages.

In the 1950s and 1960s Conservative governments, concerned about the slow growth in the British economy, tried to enforce controls on prices and wage freezes. At the same time, government began to look at the legal position of trade unions, particularly the issue of the 'closed shop' - which meant a worker could not be employed in a particular factory or production line unless he was a member of the relevant union.

The opportunity for the Conservatives to take action on the issue of the closed shop came in a legal judgement in 1964 known as the Rookes vs. Barnard case. A worker called Rookes had been sacked because he had resigned from his union because the union had threatened to strike in support of the 'closed shop'. It was ruled that Rookes was entitled to damages from the union. This decision was potentially very serious for trade unions, making it clear they did not have the protection they had assumed.

The 1964 election of Harold Wilson under Labour pacified union fears. Wilson passed the Trade Disputes Act in 1965 which effectively nullified the Rookes vs Barnard judgement. However, Wilson made it clear to the unions that in return they would have to reform some of their practices. He also appointed a Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers Associations (1965 - 1968), with the clear intention of undertaking a major reform of the law regarding unions and their relations with employers.

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