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Trade Union Revitalisation

Trends and Prospects in 34 Countries

Edited By Craig Phelan

Although trade unionism has been declining in virtually every part of the world, its continued demise is not a foregone conclusion. As it has throughout its history, trade unionism has demonstrated a capacity to adapt, to make its voice heard, to reassert its power. The scale and scope of experimentation taking place in the labour movement today is testimony not just to the depth of the crisis but also to the possibility of resurgence in the years ahead. This book is an essential resource for anyone wishing to know about contemporary labour issues. It offers a comprehensive introduction to the state of trade unionism in the world today, and the often innovative strategies and tactics trade unionists are using to revive their organisations in each of the major nations of the world. Leading labour scholars discuss, in clear prose, the health of the trade union movement, the present political and economic climate for trade union advancement, the dominant revitalisation strategies, and future prospects in each nation. Each chapter includes an up-to-date guide to further reading.


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US Unions and Revitalisation Strategies in the Neo-Liberal Era 39


DAN CLAWSON and MARY ANN CLAWSON US Unions and Revitalisation Strategies in the Neo-Liberal Era 1. Introduction In the post-Cold War era, the United States has been the world’s unchallenged superpower, uniting economic, political, cultural, and military dominance. Despite significant economic growth, inequality has increased, with median income stagnant and gains in income and wealth going disproportionately to those at the very top of the hierarchy, while neoliberal economic reorganisation and political initiatives have transformed the terrain on which labour operates and undermined its ability to resist such assaults. In the postwar period of the so-called labour accord, roughly 1945–73, unions and employers had observed an armed truce within the framework of the New Deal labour regime. This system was re- inforced by a regulatory state, a managed economy, and solid eco- nomic growth with gains distributed relatively equally. As early as the 1950s, however, but intensifying in the 1970s, employers sought to undermine this system, largely through defensive actions, resisting the expansion of unionised worksites and relocating production to less labour-friendly environments. The 1980s marked a new phase: as Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency and the neoliberal mobilisa- tion was consolidated, employers not only resisted new organising more vigorously and creatively, but aggressively demanded conces- sions from existing union members. As a result, employers won nu- merous concessions from largely compliant unions; those few unions that attempted to stand up to employer power were usually broken. As important as the explicit assaults on labour, the economy was reorganised...

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