Labor Visions and State Power

Labor Visions and State Power: The Origins of Business Unionism in the United States

Victoria C. Hattam
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  • Book Info
    Labor Visions and State Power
    Book Description:

    Why has labor played a more limited role in national politics in the United States than it has in other advanced industrial societies? Victoria Hattam demonstrates that voluntarism, as American labor's policy was known, was the American Federation of Labor's strategic response to the structure of the American state, particularly to the influence of American courts. The AFL's strategic calculation was not universal, however. This book reveals the competing ideologies and acts of interpretation that produced these variations in state-labor relations.

    Originally published in 1993.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6308-2
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Labor, Ideology, and the State: Working-Class Formation in the United States
    (pp. 3-29)

    The particular path of working-class formation in the United States has set the broad contours of American politics. While labor movements in many West European nations have provided the core constituents for progressive organizations and social movements, American labor has played a more limited role in national politics. Ever since the turn of the century, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) has advocated a distinctive strategy of business unionism that privileged economic interests over political reform. Where labor unions in Western Europe advocated workers’ interests in the political arena, and advanced an extensive program of state-sponsored social reform, American unions...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Judicial Regulation of Labor: The Common Law Doctrine of Criminal Conspiracy, 1806–1896
    (pp. 30-75)

    In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, workingmen began to organize in both Western Europe and the United States in order to protest the economic and social changes that accompanied industrialization. No government welcomed this increase in workers’ power, and all tried to contain workers’ protest by regulating trade unions, friendly societies, and strike actions. Not all governments, however, relied on the same institutions to implement their policy. While other nations looked to legislatures to prevent workers from organizing, the United States relied primarily on the judiciary to accomplish this task.¹ The primary mechanism through which American courts regulated...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Producers’ Vision: A Republican Political Economy
    (pp. 76-111)

    The antebellum era was by no means a period of stable economic and social relations. On the contrary, recent work by a number of labor historians has documented important changes under way in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Studies of several cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Lynn, Massachusetts, have shown that metropolitan industrialization did not proceed directly from craft to factory production in a single bound, but rather followed a more uneven course. Production was expanded in the antebellum decades through the reorganization of work and the division of labor rather than through the adoption of...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Disintegration of the Producers’ Alliance and Politicization of Judicial Regulation, 1865–1896
    (pp. 112-179)

    After the Civil War, labor’s relation to the state changed significantly when several organizations began to contest the conspiracy convictions and push repeatedly for legal reform. Beginning in 1865 and continuing through the end of the century, the New York Workingmen’s Assembly (1865–1897), the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) (1881–1886), and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) (1886–) all declared judicial regulation of industrial conflict to be oppressive and unjust and embarked on an extensive campaign to check the power of the courts. Understanding how and why conspiracy convictions were politicized after the Civil...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The United States in Comparative Perspective: English Labor and the Courts
    (pp. 180-203)

    In Chapter 4, I showed how the dominance of the courts undermined the formation of a politically active labor movement in the United States. This chapter compares American labor movement development with the English experience in order to test further the argument developed for American labor. England provides an excellent comparative case because of the pattern of similarity and difference in the two countries. Not only are American and English courts both members of the common law legal system, but the process of working-class formation was remarkably similar in the two countries for almost a century, between 1780 and 1880....

  10. CHAPTER SIX Conclusion: Ideas, Interests, and the Concept of Class
    (pp. 204-216)

    Voluntarism, I have argued, was the AFL’s strategic response to the unusual configuration of state power in the United States. The separation of powers and the dominance of the courts within the divided state made political action less rewarding for American workers than it was for their counterparts across the Atlantic. When faced repeatedly with an obstructionist court from 1865 through 1895, the AFL eventually devised other means of advancing workers’ interests at the turn of the century. However, how the AFL came to this strategic calculation was no simple story. Workers’ relation to the state was not invariant, nor...

  11. APPENDIX A American Labor Conspiracy Cases
    (pp. 217-218)
  12. APPENDIX B Additional Cases
    (pp. 219-220)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-256)
  14. Index
    (pp. 257-266)