Crisis and Political Beliefs

Crisis and Political Beliefs: The Case of the Colt Firearms Strike

Marc Lendler
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Crisis and Political Beliefs
    Book Description:

    Does the political thinking of ordinary citizens change during periods of crisis?Marc Lendler addresses this question by investigating the story behind an unusually prolonged and ultimately successful strike-a five-year conflict at the Colt Firearms Company in Hartford, Connecticut, in the 1980s. Lendler documents how the participants' political consciousness evolved during this period, showing what they thought about American politics and institutions.Although American blue-collar workers seem to accept the political and economic order during normal times, their core beliefs about fairness, the availability of opportunity, redistribution, and the importance of government changed significantly in this nonnormal situation, Lendler finds. Drawing on surveys, extended interviews with workers and managers, and historical data, Lendler measures participants' views and compares them with the responses of workers in more normal settings. He evaluates his findings in a way different from most investigations of political thinking, combining rather than contrasting various explanations of resistance and accommodation. Lendler admits the usefulness of theories of trade-offs and "hidden transcripts" as explanations for public quiescence, but he contends that hegemony theory helps explain how political beliefs changed so rapidly when people were thrown into uncharted territory.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14636-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 The Times That Try Men’s Souls
    (pp. 1-12)

    The political thinking of ordinary citizens changes in times of crisis. This is not a revelation; it has been noted often and the reasons are fairly straightforward. When the circumstances that lead people to judgments about the political world are suddenly altered, conventional conclusions no longer carry the protective coloration of hard-headed common sense. There is a greater need for information, a more compelling reason to process it, and a greater urgency (and sometimes, freedom) to think and speak about political developments. Events that in more normal times seem to demand no more than hazy reflection impinge more directly on...

  5. 2 Irrepressible Conflict
    (pp. 13-33)

    This chapter will provide some historical information on the company and union and an outline of the central issues and events of the 1985–1990 conflict. It has several purposes. One is to provide context for the subsequent events—the financial and competitive position of the company and division, the nature of company-union relations, and the relation between union leaders and members. Another is to substantiate the claim in the last chapter that the conflict at Colt was an unusual, highly charged event for those who lived through it, exceptional even among lengthy labor disputes. With that established, I can...

  6. 3 A Rather Substantial Commitment
    (pp. 34-60)

    It is now time to bring the first two chapters together to learn what we can from the Colt strike about the effects of high-intensity conflict on people’s attitudes and values. How did the Colt strikers evaluate American institutions after, and in light of, their experience? Did they come to different conclusions from those reached by most Americans about the fairness of industrial authority or about American society more generally? Was the conflict an eye-opening learning experience or did it resemble normal-time interest-group activity? Did it create any new sense of grievance or injustice, or did it seem more simply...

  7. 4 A General Attention to Public Affairs
    (pp. 61-81)

    Open-ended surveys provide the opportunity to obtain information on subjects which the interviewer may not have thought of as central but which those interviewed do. Strikers were able to introduce or expand on topics I had not considered or to order the importance of issues differently than I might have. Since the fixed-answer questionnaire was not given until the open-ended surveys had been completed, I had an opportunity to devise new questions based on the degree of emphasis strikers themselves gave to some concerns. This chapter is based on one such change of plot.

    When I talked with strikers informally...

  8. 5 Horatio Alger to Robin Hood
    (pp. 82-103)

    These past two chapters have essentially been about political temperature. The specific judgments the strikers made in broadening their definitions of interest and recasting the electoral arena into a class battlefield are not unheard of—unusual, but not unheard of. What is more striking is the vehemence, passion, and unanimity with which these views are expressed. That temperature was apparent to even a casual observer, and was what led me initially toward seeing this conflict as a transformative experience. The “naturalization” argument suggests that many aspects of American society should look different to the strikers. If, as that argument goes,...

  9. 6 Reconstructing the Political Spectacle
    (pp. 104-113)

    At times in the interviewing process, the timing and phrasing of answers—their theatrical qualities—is as informative as the substance. The strikers had a singular story to tell: a responsible group of people wronged by an unjust exercise of arbitrary power held by those with an overwhelming advantage in political and economic resources. But they told it in a variety of styles: some diffuse, some sharply focused, some profane, some pleading. All of the distinctions in rhetorical form were collapsed in the answers to one question: “What do you think it would be like working here without a union?”...

  10. 7 A Vernal Morning, and the Day After
    (pp. 114-122)

    The political territory I have been exploring here is not brand new, but it has not been visited often. That is through no one’s fault—there are many fewer opportunities to study “moments of madness” than the politics of more stable periods. Most people develop their political dispositions within the confines of familiar landmarks; very few experience the sudden, wrenching rearrangement of political geography as happened here. Outside a relatively narrow circle of political activists, people are generally and understandably more concerned with “making lives” than with “making history.”¹ So, too, with polities. A contemporary political theorist has argued that...

  11. Appendixes
    (pp. 123-142)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 143-170)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 171-180)
  14. Index
    (pp. 181-186)