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Hard Work

Hard Work: Remaking the American Labor Movement

Rick Fantasia
Kim Voss
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 259
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  • Book Info
    Hard Work
    Book Description:

    This concise overview of the labor movement in the United States focuses on why American workers have failed to develop the powerful unions that exist in other industrialized countries. Packed with valuable analysis and information,Hard Workexplores historical perspectives, examines social and political policies, and brings us inside today's unions, providing an excellent introduction to labor in America.Hard Workbegins with a comparison of the very different conditions that prevail for labor in the United States and in Europe. What emerges is a picture of an American labor movement forced to operate on terrain shaped by powerful corporations, a weak state, and an inhospitable judicial system. What also emerges is a picture of an American worker that has virtually disappeared from the American social imagination. Recently, however, the authors find that a new kind of unionism-one that more closely resembles a social movement-has begun to develop from the shell of the old labor movement. Looking at the cities of Los Angeles and Las Vegas they point to new practices that are being developed by innovative unions to fight corporate domination, practices that may well signal a revival of unionism and the emergence of a new social imagination in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93771-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE “A bit unusual and a little special”
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Why Labor Matters: The Underside of the “American Model”
    (pp. 1-33)

    In the American popular imagination and in the mainstream press, the United States is presented as being superior to Western Europe in almost every way. Newspaper articles boast that the American economy is a miraculous jobs machine and disparage the high unemployment rates in Europe; they emphasize high productivity growth and scorn “Eurosclerosis.”¹ They tout the unprecedented levels of economic creativity unleashed by the “new economy” of the 1990s and criticize Europeans for clinging to outmoded ways of life. In addition, Americans believe, and are repeatedly told, that they enjoy the highest standard of living and have more job opportunities...

  6. CHAPTER TWO An Exceptionally Hostile Terrain
    (pp. 34-77)

    Pundits and scholars frequently talk and write about the American labor movement as if it has always been “exceptional” or different from the mass-based, radical labor movements of other advanced democratic countries in Western Europe. However, throughout much of the nineteenth century, observers would have noticed little that was unusual about American labor, at least in relation to France and England, two countries that were then at roughly comparable levels of capitalist development. The American labor movement was composed of skilled craft workers, whose political language and practices resembled those of their French and British counterparts.¹ This began to change...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Bureaucrats, “Strongmen,” Militants, and Intellectuals
    (pp. 78-119)

    “TEAMSTERS AND TURTLES—TOGETHER AT LAST!” read the hand-painted sign that bobbed up and down amid bodies and banners filling the streets of downtown Seattle. Everyone, it seems, saw that sign—not only those protesting in late November 1999, but also the millions watching the events on television. Because unionized truck drivers (“Teamsters”) and environmental activists (“Turtles”) are completely oxymoronic in American sociocultural terms, the slogan resonated singularly amid the tear gas, the barking chants, and the overall failure of the meeting itself (in theNew York Timesthe Seattle World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting was variously termed “a collapse,”...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Practices and Possibilities of a Social Movement Unionism
    (pp. 120-159)

    In the 1990s, following years of declining membership and organizational paralysis, a few American unions quite unexpectedly began to experiment with a new, more expansive, and more combative model of unionism. This new unionism has yielded some dramatic victories. Tens of thousands of low-wage building service workers have been organized in “Justice for Janitors” campaigns, carried out in several cities by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). SEIU also achieved a historic milestone in February 1999 when it organized 74,000 minimumwage home health care workers in Southern California—the largest successful unionization drive in the United States since the United...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Two Futures
    (pp. 160-176)

    The recent histories of social movement unionism in Los Angeles and Las Vegas demonstrate the ways in which its practices represent a clear departure from those of postwar business unionism. As such these events hold out the promise and possibility that American unions may at last be able to build a labor movement powerful enough to take on America’s virulently antiunion institutions and win. If this were to happen, it would have enormous implications not only for workers in the United States, but, given American’s dominant position in the global economy, for workers elsewhere as well.

    As it is, union...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 177-210)
    (pp. 211-228)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 229-244)