The State & Labor in Modern America


In this important new book, Melvyn Dubofsky traces the relationship between the American labor movement and the federal government from the 1870's until the present. His is the only book to focus specifically on the "labor questions" as a lens through which to view more clearly the basic political, economic, and social forces that have divided citizens throughout the industrial era. Dubofsky integrates archival and other traditional historical sources with the best of recent scholarship in history and the social sciences to show that the government has had an exceptional influence on workers and their movements in the United States. Many scholars contend that the state has acted to suppress trade union autonomy and democracy, as well as rank-and-file militancy, in the interests of social stability and conclude that the law has rendered unions the servants of capital and the state. In contrast, Dubofsky argues that the relationship between the state and labor is far more complex and that workers and their unions have gained from positive state intervention at particular junctures in American history. He focuses on six such periods: the turn of the century, when trade unions nearly quintupled in size; the World War I years, when they nearly doubled their memberships; the New Deal period, when organizers rebuilt a moribund labor movement; the World War II years, when mass production matured and the so-called modern industrial relations system developed: the Korean War period, when unionism reached its maximum strength among American workers; and the years of Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society, the last period when union membership increased in size. Dubofsky argues that these were eraswhen, in varying combinations, popular politics, administrative policy formation, and union influence on the legislative and executive branches operated to promote stability by furthering the interests of workers and their organ