Trends and Prospects in 34 Countries
Edited By Craig Phelan
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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