By Nick Unger
Why would one expect American unions to foster a broad insurgent culture? The legal framework, political and organizational for today’s unions goes back almost 80 years. It has always encouraged a culture of accommodation with the needs of production, output and efficiency and discouraged a broad insurgent culture of conflict, turmoil and disruption.
The Wagner Act strictures were not imposed on labor but rather demanded by it. The AFL in the 1930’s was not looking for social conflict and industrial strife but for stabilization. The CIO was looking for the same thing, institutional standing for unions, though they were willing to use disruption as a tactic to get it. The New Deal gave labor what it asked for, institutional protection. Labor gave the New Deal leaders what they needed in return; relatively stable production.
Unions viewed the Wagner Act as a fundamental pillar of American society, almost on the level of the Bill of Rights, like Social Security. Unions were here to stay this time. Public sector unionism’s growth comes from the post-World War 2 expansion of America’s version of a welfare state. Unions treated both the welfare state and the unions of workers who administer it as permanent features of American society more than as contested terrain. Union structures made responding to the growing contest over the terrain more difficult. Continue reading Another go-round on Unions as Consciousness Builders – Part 2: Hello & Goodbye with Far too little In Between