Over the past decade American labor has faced a tidal wave of wage cuts, plant closures and broken strikes. In this first comprehensive history of the labor movement from Truman to Reagan, Kim Moody shows how the AFL-CIO’s conservative ideology of “business unionism” effectively disarmed unions in the face of a domestic right turn and an epochal shift to globalized production. Eschewing alliances with new social forces in favor of its old Cold War liaisons and illusory compacts with big business, the AFL-CIO under George Meany and Lane Kirkland has been forced to surrender many of its post-war gains.
With extraordinary attention to the viewpoints of rank-and-file workers, Moody chronicles the major, but largely unreported, efforts of labor’s grassroots to find its way out of the crisis. In case studies of auto, steel, meatpacking and trucking, he traces the rise of “anti-concession” movements and in other case studies describes the formidable obstacles to the “organization of the unorganized” in the service sector. A detailed analysis of the Rainbow Coalition’s potential to unite labor with other progressive groups follows, together with a pathbreaking consideration of the possibilities of a new “labor internationalism.”
In an article for Counterfire, Kim Moody writes that the recent waves of worker demonstrations across the Midwest are ‘putting new ideas about class politics and power on the trade union agenda.’ Charting the emergence of a revitalised union movement in reaction to fresh union-busting legislation being put forward by newly-elected Republican governors, Moody argues that:
The laws were put forth by recently elected Republican governors in those and other states designed to destroy the power of public worker unions. The attack on public sector workers, often focused on teachers, is long standing, sponsored by big business and embraced by many Democrats as well as Republicans, from the Whitehouse to state legislatures and town halls across the country. The recent Great Recession provided a further opportunity for state governments facing growing deficits to propose the final coup de grace to public worker rights. The first sign of worker resistance came on Monday, 14th February when some 400 Minnesota union members filled the hearing rooms of the state legislature to oppose a bill that would undermine union security and cut wages by 15 percent.