What Happened to the American Working Class?

by Dan La Botz

1. Thanks to Lois Weiner, Charlie Post, Bob Park, Rusty Gilbert, Bruce Levine, and my wife Sherry Baron.

2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, report of April 2009 on employment and of March 2009 on strikes.

3. Steven Greenhouse, "In America, Labor Has An Unusually Long Fuse," The New York Times, April 5, 2009.

4. I use the term "revolutionary left" advisedly, aware that the Socialist Party had a reformist character. that the Communist Party by mid-1935 had entered its Popular Front period during which revolutionary rhetoric, politics and actions were ruled off the agenda, and that the Trotskyists were too small to be considered a party. Nevertheless, still in the 1930s both some leaders and many members of all three organizations considered themselves revolutionaries, even if their conceptions of revolution were diverging in those years.

5. Mike Goldfield, The Color of Politics: Race and the Mainsprings of American Politics (New York: The New Press, 1997), Chapter 6 "The Depression / New Deal Era," pp. 176-230.

6. David Milton, The Politics of U.S. Labor From the Great Depression to the New Deal (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1982).

7. Melvyn Dubofsky and Warren Van Tine, John L. Lewis: A Biography (New York: Quadrangle/New York Times, 1977).

8. Christopher L. Tomlins, The State and the Unions: Labor Relations, Law, and the Organized Labor Movement in America, 1880-1960 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989 [1985]), Chapter 4, "The New Deal collective bargaining policy," pp. 99-147.

9. Two books which look at the issue of a working class party are: Art Preis, Labor's Giant Step: Twenty Years of the CIO (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972); Staughton Lynd, ed., "We Are All Leaders": The Alternative Unionism of the Early 1930s (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996).

10. David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (New York: Verso, 1991); Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (New York: Routledge, 1995).

11. Goldfield, The Color of Politics, 240-249.

12. Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meaney, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999); Jack Stieber, Governing the UAW (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1962); Ralph C. James and Estelle Dinerstein James, Hoffa and the Teamsters: A Study of Union Power (New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1965).

13. Charles Post and Kit Adam Wainer, "Socialist Organization Today," Second Edition (Detroit: Solidarity, 2005). This excellent pamphlet goes into more detail about the role of the Stalinist Communist Party in the Popular Front Period in derailing the labor movement.

14. The analysis put forward here was developed by: C. Wright Mills, The New Men of Power: America's Labor Leaders (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1948); Sidney Lens, Left, Right & Center: Conflicting Forces in American Labor (Hinsdale, Illinois: Henry Regnery Company, 1949); Nelson Lichtenstein, Labor's War at Home: The CIO in World War II (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982); Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meaney, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999).

15. The developments of rank-and-file movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s are described and discussed in: Burton H. Hall, ed., Autocracy and Insurgency in Organized Labor (New York: New Politics, 1972); Paul J. Nyden, "Miners for Democracy; Struggle in the Coal Fields," Ph.D. Diss. (New York: Columbia University, 1974); James A. Geschwender, Class, Race & Worker Insurgence: The League of Revolutionary Black Workers (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977); Dan La Botz, Rank-and-File Rebellion: Teamsters for a Democratic Union (New York: Verso, 1990); Aaron Brenner, "Rank-and-File Rebellion, 1966-1975" (Ph.D. Diss. New York: Columbia University, 1996).

16. Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (New York: Verso, 2002); A Belden Fields, Trotskyism and Maoism: theory and Practice in France and in the United States (New York: Praeger, 1988); Milton Fisk, Socialism From Below in the United States: The Origins of the International Socialist Organization (Cleveland, Ohio: Hera Press, 1977). Fisk's book deals mostly with the International Socialists (IS) which succeeded more than others building rank-and-file groups in a few major unions.

17. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, 1947-2009," table.

18. Kim Moody, An Injury to All: The Decline of American Unionism (New York: Verso, 1988).

19. Labor Notes, both an educational center and a publication of the same name, played an important role in the 1980s in supporting auto workers and others who organized to fight concessions.

20. Aviva Chomsky, Linked Labor Histories: New England, Columbia, and the Making of a Global Working Class (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008) shows how this worked in the textile industry.

21. William Milberg and Deborah Schöller, "Globalization, Offshoring and Economic Insecurity in Industrialized Countries," Working Paper, U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, at:

22. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Employment, Current Employment Statistics, databases, historical tables, online. I recognize that simply using the BLS categories for "manufacturing" and "private services" oversimplifies the picture somewhat, but at the same time it provides a useful baseline measure of the change.

23. Robert Brenner, The Boom and the Bubble: The US in the World Economy (New York: Verso, 2002), p. 51.

24. Peter Rachleff, Hard Pressed in the Heartland: The Hormel Strike and the Future of the Labor Movement (Boston: South End Press, 1993); Steven K. Ashby and C.J. Hawking, Staley: The Fight for a New American Labor Movement (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009). See also Sheila Cohen's account of this period in Ramparts of Resistance: why Workers Lost Their Power and How to Get it Back (London: Pluto Press, 2006).

25. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, 1947-2009," table.

26. Mike Parker, Inside the Circle: A Union Guide to QWL (Detroit: Labor Notes, 1986); Mike Parker and Jane Slaughter, Choosing Sides: Unions and the Team Concept (Detroit: Labor Notes, 1988); Mike Parker and Jane Slaughter, Working Smart: A Union Guide to Participation Programs and Reengineering (Detroit: Labor Notes, 1994).

27. David F. Noble, Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), best describe the process.

28. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Employment, Current Employment Statistics, databases, historical tables, online.

29. BLS, "Health Care".

30. Mitra Toossi, "A century of change: the U.S. labor force, 1950-2050," Monthly Labor Review, May 2002, pp. 15-28. (Available online at BLS website.); "Women at Work: A Visual Essay," Monthly Labor Review, October 2003, pp. 46-50. (Available online at BLS website.); Rakesh Kochbar, "Latin Labor Report, 2006: Strong Gains in Employment," Pew Hispanic Center, September 27, 2006. (Abailable online at Pew Hispanic Center.)

31. Chang, Tracy, "Union Members Who Vote for the Republicans," Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Sheraton Boston and the Boston Marriott Copley Place, Boston, MA, Jul 31, 2008, p. 2.

32. Kim Moody develops these concepts in Workers in a Lean World: Unions in the International Economy (London: Verso, 1997).