9
FORCES AFFECTING THE
GROWTH OF THE AMERICAN
LABOR MOVEMENT

Irving Bernstein

My topic is complicated, subtle, and is the subject of controversy in the United States. There are several reasons for this, and I think it important that you understand them before I move into the substance of the discussion.

The first is that the trade union in the American environment, as a penetrating student of this question, Robert F. Hoxie, observed, is "one of the most complex, diffuse, and protean of modem social phenomena." 1 It is, therefore, impossible to interpret the labor movement or to explain its growth or decline with a single theory. Rather, one must develop, as Hoxie put it, a "pluralistic" system of explanation.

Second, although American statistics in many areas are very good, we have serious inadequacies in our measures of trade‐ union membership. There is, for example, disagreement over how a "member" should be defined and even over the definition of a "union." Many of our labor organizations call themselves "internationals" and report their membership in Canada, Puerto Rico, and the Canal Zone, as well as in the United States. We have no consistent statistical series going back over many years and cannot make exact historical comparisons. Fortunately, the statistics are now getting better, but they still leave much to be desired.

For these reasons, there is considerable room for disagreement in interpretation, and scholars who have studied this topic have often reached differing conclusions. Thus, you must understand

____________________
1
Robert F. Hoxie, Trade Unionism in the United States (New York: Appleton-Century, 1921), p. 1.

-121-

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