Labor History

Published by Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Online ISSN: 1469-9702
Print ISSN: 0023-656X
Correlations of Labor Measures Across Time
Cross-Sectional Correlations of Labor Measures At Specific Points in Time
Scatter Plots of the Number of Pages
Cross-Sectional Correlations of Changes in Labor Measures
One of the most difficult problems in the social sciences is measuring the policy climate in societies. Prior to the 1930s the vast majority of labor regulations in the U.S. were enacted at the state level. In this paper we develop several summary measures of labor regulation that document the changes in labor regulation across states and over time during the Progressive Era. The measures include an Employer-Share-Weighted Index (ESWI) that weights regulations by the share of workers affected and builds up the overall index from 17 categories of regulation; the number of pages of laws; appropriations for spending on labor issues per worker; and two nonparametric COORDINATES that summarize locations in a policy space. We describe the pluses and minuses of the measures, how strongly they are correlated, and show the stories that they tell about the changes in labor regulation during the progressive era. We then provide preliminary evidence on the extent to which the labor regulation measures are associated with political and economic correlates identified as important in histories of industrial relations and labor markets.Institutional subscribers to the NBER working paper series, and residents of developing countries may download this paper without additional charge at
Correlations of Labor Measures Across Time 
Cross-Sectional Correlations of Labor Measures At Specific Points in Time 
Cross-Sectional Correlations of Changes in Labor Measures 
Scatter Plots of the Number of Pages
Social welfare programs in the United States are designed to serve as safety nets for people in hard times, in contrast with the universal approach found in many other developed western nations. In a survey of Cliometric studies of social welfare programs in the U.S., we examine the variation in the safety net in the U.S. across states in the 20th century, the determinants of the variation, and its impact on socioeconomic outcomes. The U.S. has always displayed substantial variation in the extent of the safety net because the features of most public social welfare programs are and were determined by local and state governments, even after the federal government became involved. Differences across states persist strongly for typically a decade, although the persistence weakens with time, and there are some periods when federal intervention led to a re-ordering. The rankings of state benefits differs from program to program, and economic and political factors have different weights in determining benefit levels in panel data estimation of their effects. Variation in benefits across programs during the early 1900s had significant impact on labor markets, economic activity, family formation, death rates, and crime.
During the Popular Front of the mid 1930s, the longstanding political identities of French metalworkers were significantly transformed. For decades metalworker political identities had featured anti-patriotism and the rejection of cross-class alliances. But the tenor of the mass mobilizations and electoral behavior of metalworkers during the Popular Front reflected the emergence of a new political identity that combined class and national identities and support for cross-class political alliances. Through a study of metalworkers in the industrial city of Lyon this article argues that this new political identity emerged out of the intersection of industrial social relations and political opportunity structure.
Between the late 1860s and the aftermath of the First World War, American discourse about the 'labor problem' - relations among workers, unions, employers, and the state - was permeated by comparisons. Reformers looked especially toward Britain, the first industrial nation, for clues about how to build an industrial relations system. This article explores how three generations of American employers reflected on what Britain's experience with relatively strong, recognized, legally secure unions could teach about how to handle the challenge of American labor. Their interest was serious, sustained, if discontinuous. It was most important at key moments of decision in the early 1900s and in 1918-19 when the Open Shop was first built, and then refurbished and defended. Examination of their understanding and representations of the British model of labor relations aids our appreciation of the ideological framework within which they conceived and constructed the American Way.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, the progressive income tax gradually came to dominate the U.S. system of public finance. The move to a direct and progressive tax regime had it roots in the social movements of the time period. This article examines organized labor's attitudes towards taxation at the turn of the century. It explores the pivotal role that members of the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor played in facilitating this historic shift in U.S. tax policy. By examining what national leaders and rank-and-file members of organized labor said and did about taxation, this article contends that the American labor movement played a significant - though halting - part in helping establish a fairer and more effective, modern system of taxation.
The article examines the political origins and impact of recent managerial reform (the shift from the professional bureaucracy model of public administration to the new public management [NPM]) in UK local government. Two key drivers of managerial reform are identified: central–local relations and labour management. The former are historically complex due, partly, to the Victorian expediential justification of local government, and the tenuous constitutional status of local government in the British polity. These factors necessitate and permit central control with models of public administration a key mechanism for achieving this. In addition, as 70% of overall sector costs are made up of centrally funded labour costs, the centre's attempts to control labour management (pay and performance) is a second key driver of managerial reform. And models of public administration, again, are a major mechanism for achieving central control. The analysis is rooted in a brief historical examination of developments from the 1880s, and a longitudinal case study examining more recent developments to illustrate the general case made. Empirical findings show councillor, union and worker resistance to managerial reform. They also show job loss, work intensification, job insecurity and demoralisation of staff. Another key finding is that NPM is not new, but a regression to the Victorian era.
Thirty years ago, economists Herbert Gutman pointed out that without "detailed knowledge of the local world inhabited by white and Negro workers" in the late 19th century South, economists cannot fully understand the early days of organized labor in the South. A close study of the short-lived Cooperative Workers of America (CWA) in several upstate South Carolina counties in 1887 reveals in some detail how racial antagonisms and fears affected the organization and downfall of a labor organization in the region. The CWA might have succeeded: in South Carolina it drew upon earlier models of organizing by black laborers and tapped into a pool of local leadership. Yet, the CWA failed, due partly to inopportune timing. It arose as the Knights of Labor began to decline in the South and just before the Farmers' Alliance, a movement ambivalent if not hostile to black agricultural wage laborers, began its swift ascent in South Carolina. Despite its brief tenure and lack of tangible accomplishments, the CWA and the way in which it was squelched had some immediate effects and provided an early demonstration of the efficacy of force as a response to black or biracial labor organizations in this part of the South.
This article analyses the labour history of Italy's recruitment of workers for settlement in the Italian colony of Eritrea. The quest for full employment, both in Italy and within its nascent colonial ‘empire’, was the main driving force behind Italian colonialism in general. Italy's labour policy, which started to take shape in the 1890s, was never linear. Unlike the previous liberal Governments, the Fascist regime's policy was far more determined to use its colonies as places to settle the Italian peasant masses (the same that were migrating to the Americas for a better life, a trend which Fascist Italy considered humiliating to the mother country). In keeping with its vision of the colonies as a means to attain full employment, Fascist ideology characterised the Italian colonial empire as an ‘empire of labour’. In fact, the reality of the labour situation that Italian workers found themselves in after settling in Italy's African colonies would soon show the fallacy underlying Fascist colonial ideology.
In 1919, Ford Motor Company established its first assembly plant on the European mainland in Copenhagen, Denmark. Based on a Fordist productive model, including technology and materials from Detroit, cars were manufactured and exported to most of Northern Europe. It has been claimed that Ford also transferred its principles of industrial relations to Europe, including a ban on trade unions. But as the article demonstrates, the Copenhagen factory was completely unionized, and the unions were able to establish collective bargaining for a period. On the other hand, several factors, including internal splits among the workers caused by the Fordist production methods, worked against the unions over time. The end result was a hybrid between Detroit methods and Danish traditions of industrial relations. The changing character of this hybrid is traced through the shifting relations of power between unions, local management and the Ford Motor Company.
The trade union movement in sub-Saharan Africa during the struggle against colonial rule in the 1950s has long commanded the attention of historians. Numerous books and articles have detailed the growing strength and critical role of trade unions in France's vast West African colonial federation, l'Afrique occidentale française (AOF). Far less is known about the fate of these trade unions in the nine newly independent countries that emerged from the demise of AOF. In the 15 years following independence, most autonomous trade unions in French-speaking West Africa were either marginalised or integrated into the political structures of ruling parties. With the exception of Burkina Faso, single national trade union federations controlled by ruling political parties existed everywhere in francophone West Africa by 1975. Whether capitalist, military or socialist, all political elites sought to create a trade unionism that would serve as a transmission belt for party control over the workforce, a type of unionism that was referred to as ‘participation responsable’. This article details the experience of Dahomey (now Benin), where independent trade unions struggled against responsible participation and continued to play a pivotal political role until 1975, when the state socialist regime of Mathieu Kérékou finally succeeded in imposing state-controlled trade unionism.
Orthodox depictions of a fraught labour–environmental relationship privileging class, ideological and programmatic differences are problematised by newly quantified evidence of British unions' pro-environmental policy-making since 1967. The following narrative blends widely accepted accounts of the fortunes of both movements with an evaluation of Britain's shifting political opportunity structure and coalition theory to identify an alternative range of constraints and opportunities influencing the propensity and capacity of both movements to interact effectively, culminating recently in unions' emergence as environmental actors in their own right.
As a consequence of the global economic crises of the 1970s, in Australia, micro-economic reform of the economy, and in particular the labour market, was seen as a key catalyst in providing a more competitive industrial base for the country. Underpinning this was a fundamental change in the conflictual industrial relations structure that had framed work patterns and practices since Federation. The Williamstown Naval Dockyard in Melbourne was the Australian Federal Government's premier dockyard. It had a long-standing reputation for poor productivity, inefficient work practices and industrial unrest and had been described as Australia's worst worksite. After several failed attempts to reform the dockyard, the Federal Government privatised this utility as a catalyst to reform the work culture. On 1 January 1988, the dockyard was transferred to the highly competitive private shipbuilding sector. As the first public utility sold by an Australian Federal Government and the first workplace to adopt micro-economic labour reforms, including enterprise bargaining, the dockyard provides an opportunity to examine the nature of workplace restructuring in the most radical time of change for labour and trade unions in Australia's history. The dockyard was seen at the time as at the vanguard of this change. This paper explores the reforms undertaken in the dockyard.
The 1985–1987 dispute at Silentnight bed factories in the north of England was an exceptionally long and bitter strike, lasting for 20 months from June 1985 until February 1987. A total of 346 workers were sacked for taking part in the strike, which gained a high profile with remarkable levels of support and solidarity action, largely due to its emblematic status as an extreme example of punitive treatment of workers taking industrial action in the period immediately following the defeat of the miners in 1984/1985. Workers took lawful strike action in 1985 over the non-implementation of agreed pay rises and compulsory redundancies counter to an existing agreement between the firm and the union, with the company responding to the dispute with mass dismissals. Pickets were maintained at the two factories in question for nearly two years, with the strikers gaining wide-ranging support from across the labour movement, but the company stood firm against the dismissed strikers who were ultimately defeated. Based on archival research and interviews with participants in the strike, the article analyses in detail how the dispute was sustained for so long, the legal context and the weakness of legal protections for strikers in the period, and the widespread political mobilisation and networks of support and solidarity that arose around the strike and in opposition to the policies of the Conservative government of the day.
The early twentieth century saw a large influx of Jewish immigrant population into the United States. The immigrant Jewish population simultaneously held two contradictory ideological dispositions: that of working class militancy underlined by collectivistic ideologies and that of entrepreneurship underlined by individualistic ideologies respectively. Anecdotal evidence and findings from autobiographies show that these apparently conflicting inclinations arose from this population's ambivalent attitudes towards class and their ambiguous experiences of it. This ambivalence is reflected in a number of Jewish immigrants moving back and forth between wage work and business enterprise and in turn gave rise to ambivalence in consciousness concerning social class. This contradictory mix of working class ambitions and working class politics has deep roots in American Jewish experiences dating back to the early years of immigration. It has a profound effect on this immigrant population's thinking about social inequality and conflict, combined with the persistence of a socialist based pro-labor attitude in entrepreneurial and professional middle class immigrant population. (VRS)
Thesis (M.A.)--Johns Hopkins University, 1987. Vita. Bibliography: leaves 38-48.
Also CSST Working Paper #40.
American building trades unions have historically played a critical and stabilizing role in the nation’s construction industry, establishing uniform standards and leveling the competitive playing field. Union members have enjoyed better than average wages and benefits, excellent training opportunities, and decent jobsite conditions. But in the last thirty years the industry has undergone a dramatic transformation. This article describes the decline in union density, the drop in construction wages, the growth of anti-union forces, the changes in labor force demographics, the shift toward construction management, and the emergence of an underground economy. It also analyzes how building trades unions have responded to these changes, identifies structural impediments to union renewal, and proposes strategies for building trades unions to reassert their presence and power.
In the early years of the twentieth century Japanese employers, like their counterparts in the various Western countries, experimented with programs of firm-based social welfare and social insurance, often collectively identified as welfare capitalism. This essay examines these programs, focusing on those operated by the national railroad system. It argues that these programs were neither a distinctive emanation of traditional values nor simply a result of mimicry of Western-inspired programs. They were instead an instance of a global effort by employers everywhere to cope with rapidly changing conditions and the challenges of modern economic development. The essay also argues that these Japanese programs, like those in Western countries, influenced and helped to set the parameters of state-based health and welfare systems that emerged in the first half of the century.
A careful analysis of East Indian (hereafter Indian) indentured historiography in the Caribbean reveals an upsurge in published studies in the past three decades. These studies have arguably enhanced and advanced our understanding of Indian experience during indenture. However, these studies also have some serious shortcomings. Specifically, most studies have used the records of the colonizers to write the history, narrative, and memory of colonized indentured Indian servants. Moreover, across published studies, the numerical statistics on indentured service in the Caribbean are inconsistent. Published studies tend to focus on particular regions in the Caribbean. Comparative analyses of indenture within the former and present European Caribbean colonies and elsewhere are rare. This article provides a critique of Indian indentured historiography in the Caribbean with the hope and expectation of challenging the status quo as well as instigating new trends.
This study analyzes the transnational migration of interracial cigar workers from Cuba to Tampa, Florida, from the 1880s to the early 1900s, focusing on the cigar workers' attempt to transplant union movement, La Resistencia, from Cuba to the agrarian, nativist, anti-union, Jim Crow American South. By the turn of the century the Cuban émigré workforce accounted for 20% of Tampa's population. The 6000 Cuban cigar makers, about 15% of them Afro-Cubans, toiled in 147 factories and produced almost 148 million cigars, or 20% of the nation's production. This case study also demonstrates an unusual south-to-north immigrant migration that brought with it a need for scholars to further explore, in David Montgomery's memorable phrase, the “racialized nature” of transnational trade unionism. Ultimately, the study argues that racialized union policies transplanted from the Cuban homeland to Florida subverted racial, class, and ethnic norms on which working-class solidarity was grounded in the new “Cigar-Making Capital of the World,” and, indeed, in the South generally. While racial divides existed in Cuba based on phenotypes, the migration to the Jim Crow South expedited the transplantation of the racialized aspects of the Cuban workforce. Finally, this study is intended to broaden and enrich scholars' understanding of the forces that shaped labor movements and their transnational migration and anchoring in new locations based on past and present challenges to worker solidarity.
Workers of all stripes and colors comprise a large and often forgotten segment of cinema history. This essay historicizes several key films and genres associated with early cinema, with an emphasis on pre-Great War French and American cinemas. Simultaneously, this essay formulates several critical responses to labor practices as globally understood and thus anchors this recovery of cinematized working classes, still an ongoing but marginal project in film studies today. Taken together, cinema can refract real-life occupational complexities, class dynamics, and workplace alienation – manifestations that are crucial to, primarily, view class as a social concept and to help us to think through the tensions workers faced under monopoly capitalism. Against this backdrop we must see film's ability to both trivialize class archetypes and capture the complexities as a type of tribute, as the latter becomes a central focus in this essay.
This study examines the working-class custom of “can rushing,” a.k.a. “rushing the growler,” which was the common saloon-era practice of carrying alcohol (usually beer) from a saloon in a pail for consumption elsewhere. The ubiquitous saloon served as one of the most contentious spaces between the middle class and a burgeoning working class during the Gilded Age/Progressive Era, and reformers attacked it as a blight on their communities and working-class drinking customs as a threat to a moral and orderly society. Reformers' efforts to restrict can rushing was part of a larger effort to impose middle-class control over workers' leisure activities and their parental prerogatives. For much of the working class the saloon and the cultural mores that surrounded it were a mainstay of their culture. While men were the primary customers of the saloon's interior, “rushing the growler” turned women and children into saloon customers as well. Reformers portrayed this practice as the lowest form of saloon patronage for men, while at the same time arguing that it was a dire threat to the moral welfare of women and children. Much of the working class, however, viewed this practice as an efficient and economical way to consume alcohol in the workplace, on the street, and in the home. This study will consider how the struggle over can rushing politicized this cherished working-class leisure activity.
The concept of regulation is central to industrial relations. Deregulation, re-regulation and the transfer of regulatory responsibilities have characterised five decades of reform projects. The concepts of ‘negotiated’ change and ‘colonisation’ are engaged as ways of understanding key moments of regulatory change in UK industrial relations since the 1960s. The stigmatising and undermining of trade unionism has been a key theme in modern British industrial relations. This paper explores five features of the way in which the regulatory spaces of industrial relations were colonised once the project of formalisation failed: strategies of marginalisation, strategies of containment, strategies of voice and legitimacy, the development of new expert knowledge and the rise of new actors and boundaries.
Union membership has declined precipitously in a number of countries, including in the United States, over the past fifty years. Can anything be done to stem this decline? This article argues that union voice is a positive attribute (among others) of union membership that is experiential in nature and that, unlike the costs of unionization, can be discerned only after exposure to a union. This makes the act of 'selling' unionism to workers (and to some extent firms as well) difficult. Supportive social trends and social customs are required in order to make unionization's hard-to-observe benefits easier to discern. Most membership-based institutions face the same dilemma. However, recent social networking organizations such as Facebook have been rather successful in attracting millions of active members in a relatively short period of time. The question of whether the union movement can appropriate some of these lessons is discussed with reference to historical and contemporary examples.
The range of employee surveillance techniques used by organizations (adapted from Regan, 'Genetic Testing').
This article attempts to review the proliferation of research findings about surveillance in the workplace and the issues surrounding it. It establishes a number of points of departure when considering the issue of workplace surveillance, before reviewing some of the more critical issues. First, it establishes that organizations and surveillance go hand in hand; and that workplace surveillance can take social and technological forms. Personal data gathering, Internet and email monitoring, location tracking, biometrics and covert surveillance are all areas of development. There is also evidence that groups of employees are appropriating information and communication technologies to stare back at their employers, exposing unsavoury practices and organizing collectively, prompting new thinking about resistance. Organizations watch employees primarily to protect their assets, although the nature and intensity of surveillance says much about how a company views its employees. Workplace surveillance has consequences for employees, affecting employee well-being, work culture, productivity, creativity and motivation. If no alternative can be found, managerial attention to task design, supervisory processes, employees' expectations about monitoring, and an appraisal of the company's operating environment can mediate its downsides. It is argued that in many ways the normality of workplace surveillance, and the prevalence of arguments about how to 'do it better', make it difficult to radicalize. As part of what is seen as 'good' management practice, it can confer benefits on the employee if conducted in a humane, balanced way, and is considered on a case-by-case-organization-by-organization-basis. However, the introduction of broader debates around information use, rights, power and social structure highlights how surveillance in the workplace may serve to perpetuate existing inequalities and create new ones.
The national elections of 1929 and 2007 are the only two in Australian history where the government lost office and the prime ministers lost their seats. Both right-wing governments undertook radical industrial relations reform attacking standards of work and shifting the balance of power to employers. Both election campaigns were dominated by industrial relations, and unions' grassroots mobilisation was critical in defeating the governments. The article utilises a diachronic comparative methodology to draw insights into the nature of Australian politics and the relationship between the unions and the Australian Labor Party.
This article assesses the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) during the presidency of John J. Sweeney, which lasted from 1995 until 2009. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including press accounts and the AFL-CIO's own papers, it provides one of the first scholarly assessments of the entire Sweeney presidency. Sweeney won office in the first contested election in the AFL-CIO's history, and he came into power promising to revitalize the Federation, which is the largest labor federation in the Western world. Under Sweeney, the AFL-CIO invested an unprecedented amount of resources into both organizing and political mobilization, two key areas. In the early years of his presidency, Sweeney oversaw some important gains, particularly in the organizing arena, but the 2000 presidential election proved to be a turning point. After 2000, Sweeney's reforms were undermined primarily by external factors, particularly mounting corporate opposition, deindustrialization, and a hostile political climate, although internal resistance and division also played a role. As a result, a major campaign to secure labor law reform fell short, and union density continued to decline, yet the rate of decline was slower than it had been in the 1980s and early 1990s. Overall, although the results of Sweeney’s efforts were mixed, the important role that the AFL-CIO played in electing Barack Obama partly justified Sweeney’s emphasis on political mobilization.
In the summer of 1997, organized labor won a major strike against United Parcel Service. Staying out for just over two weeks, more than 185,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) crippled UPS's operations, securing pay increases and more full-time positions as a result. At the time, observers widely predicted that the strike would lead to a revival of organized labor's fortunes, especially as it showed that American unions could still win public support. Revisiting the strike more than a decade later, this article re-assesses its impact and explores why the predicted labor revival did not happen, as union density has continued to fall since 1997. It argues that observers exaggerated the strike's transformative impact, overlooking the structural barriers that have continued to cause organized labor to decline. The strike was a defensive victory that helped uphold the pay and conditions of the UPS workers themselves but unions in general have continued to be undermined by broad trends such as the growth of the service sector, the decline of manufacturing, and ongoing corporate hostility to organized labor. In addition, there were many unique features of the UPS strike, including the favourable economic climate at the time and public sympathy for UPS drivers, which have ensured that the strike has not provided a blueprint for most American workers. Finally, ongoing political divisions within the IBT also thwarted efforts to capitalize on the strike.
The North American Free Trade Agreement's side accord – the 1994 North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation – has been portrayed as providing an ineffective, bureaucratic procedure for dealing with labor complaints about infringements of national labor legislation. This paper reviews two decades of experience. It argues that after an initial period of formal activity, which did indeed expose the accord's severe limitations, a new era of intensified international links at grassroots level commenced. Despite its limitations, the accord initiated positive learning processes and intensified exchanges between the trade union movements in the USA, Canada and Mexico.
The French civil service managerial reform initiated in 2007 was supposed to establish a brand new professional world where civil servants would be called to use new public management (NPM) methodology and tools in order to be more efficient and accountable. The final goal was to ‘privatize’ civil servants at least partially. Beyond the economic argument in a time of deep fiscal crisis, the rationale of the reform was political and philosophical, to eliminate the specificity of the civil service. The implementation of the reform and a massive reduction in force have produced systematic conflicts with unions, and most managers have rejected measures that had been designed to foster their individual motivation. A central argument of this article is to show that the values of this NPM reform run counter to those of a majority of civil servants and that public management is not politically neutral. Another argument, based on empirical surveys, is to demonstrate that this reform is of a conservative nature, designed to reinforce traditional hierarchies within the State bureaucracy. Finally, the so-called modernity of public management has produced an involution regression toward the social and professional structures of the nineteenth century.
The thrust of this article is to review the evolution of the historiography of American labor law since the publication of Christopher Tomlins' widely celebrated The State and the Unions (1985). More than an isolated effort, Tomlins' critique of New Deal labor law was part of a broader analytical paradigm which should be called the ‘critical synthesis’. Dominating the field until the mid-1990s, the critical synthesis owed a part of its success to the crisis of labor history. Then, it gradually receded as labor unions continued their steep decline and historians of labor rekindled their faith in American liberalism and the Democratic Party. In analyzing the rise and fall of the critical synthesis, the article thus lays bare all the factors – scientific, social, and political – that contribute to the making and unmaking of analytical paradigms in the political history of labor. Finally, in doing so, the article places the debate on the Employee Free Choice Act in historical perspective.
The results.
This study argues that re-formation of working-class identity was crucial for the construction of a cohesive labour movement in Sweden. Analysis of the materials used in trade union study circles in the 1920s and 1930s reveals that the organizational identity constructed by the leadership was closely linked to the organization as a phenomenon rather than to the class structure on which it was based. This was a response to the left-wing organizations, communists and syndicalists, that challenged the reformist labour movement in the 1920s and an attempt to create unity in the reformist branch of the labour movement.
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