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Official history

By Michael J. Smith on Monday January 21, 2008 11:57 PM

Here's a remarkable take, by one Ian Welsh, on the history of the laboring man and woman:


Unions in America have been in a decline for over 60 years....

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), created by the Wagner Act in 1935 as independent agency of United States Governments holds the official mandate to conduct elections for labor union representation and to investigate and remedy unfair labor practices. Under the Bush administration, the NLRB has:

  • made it impossible for large numbers of workers to join unions(pdf);
  • potentially reclassified many workers as supervisors (including many nurses) in order to remove them from unions;
  • passed numerous rulings which treat employers in one way, and unions in another.
Accompanying this mournful history there is a graph:

Now one of the things that strikes me about this graph is that the decline has been monotonic since 1955, through Democratic and Republican years alike. So Ian Welsh's focus on the last seven years seems a little, um, tendentious.

Ian, however, would like us to draw a very specific conclusion:

Another 4 or 8 years of a Republican presidency could doom American unions...

Unions, even more than the US itself, need a new FDR. Without FDR unions would have never had their day... absent a President who really cares about unions there's no reason to believe that decline will stop.

Based on the historical record, as shown by Ian's own graph, it would be equally plausible to argue that another 4 to 8 years of a Democratic presidency would "doom American unions."

The amazing thing here, of course, is the claim that unions gained ground in the Thirties because they had a nice sympathetic President. This is sheer mythography. The causal arrow runs the other way, in fact: the President was sympathetic because Labor was ready to hang Capital from the nearest lamppost, and Capital got the message. Ian's message is a little different:

What government took away, fertile conditions for organizing and pro-union policies, government can give back... the most important factor for the fate of unions ... is who the President is.

With the right President, and the right NLRB, the union movement can have it's renaissance....

John Edwards has spent the last four years working with unions....

Government "gave" these "fertile conditions" back in the day? That's not the history I read.

The "most important factor" is... the President? Now you've made me mad, Ian. What ever became of the people's own agency? Can they only act through a President? What became of all those lampposts?

Comments (2)


the lamp post is now mayhaps virtual
but still shines

nice piece

note the 45-60 taft heartless "brake "

give em hell harry meant burn
that red union card bub
with the fires of
the papist holy bar b que
wind its ash
in parson brimstone's
white sheet


jfk threw the pie cards a bone

organize the pub sec
this played further hob
with the prog wagons class edge

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