American Labor in Politics: The Forum Special Issue

by
Rohan Mascarenhas, Russell Sage Foundation
June 6, 2012

unionsAfter Scott Walker's victory in Wisconsin, academics are already pondering the election's implications for the American labor movement. A good initial resource for information is the latest issue of The Forum, an interdisciplinary journal that offers scholars a venue to discuss contemporary politics. The issue, published earlier this month, focuses on the changing place of organized labor in American politics and includes submissions from Russell Sage Foundation authors Chris Rhomberg and David Weil. Here are the abstracts for their articles:

"Broken Windows," Vulnerable Workers, and the Future of Worker Representation, David Weil
The "broken windows" perspective suggests that the erosion of order in a neighborhood leads to elevated fear, retreat from the street, and consequently an environment where more serious crime takes root. I apply the broken windows idea to the workplace. Increasing violations of basic standards in many low-wage workplaces is perceived by workers as the breakdown of laws, making them reluctant to exercise voice in any way, in turn resulting in further erosion of conditions. Efforts to increase union representation are challenging at best under these circumstances. I provide evidence of the decline of complaints by workers over the last decade under the Fair Labor Standards Act as consistent with this story. I then argue that public policy makers and worker advocates should rethink their approach in light of broken windows, focusing on ways to improve collective exercise of basic workplace rights.

The Return of Judicial Repression: What Has Happened to the Strike?, Chris Rhomberg
Discussions of the current state of American labor have overlooked the fact that the strike, a principal form of union and working class power, has virtually disappeared from American life. The rise of an anti-union institutional legal regime has undermined the right to strike and effectively reversed the structure of incentives for collective bargaining envisioned under the National Labor Relations Act. The dynamics of the current regime are illustrated by one of the largest and longest strikes of recent decades, the 1995 Detroit Newspapers strike. The consequences go beyond unionized labor and constitute a de-democratization of workplace governance in the United States.

Read the ungated full issue here.

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