By the end of the 1960s the reform agenda of the Civil Rights Movement had progressed beyond what other liberal members within the traditional New Deal coalition were prepared to support. As the agenda reached beyond the elimination of legal discrimination, the movement's demands increasingly posed a direct threat to the privileged status of other sectors of society. Specifically, the movement's efforts to realize full employment access for minorities threatened the longstanding assumptions of many white workers that they had a prior right to a job.
Organized labor, as the central force within the liberal coalition, was the critical intermediary between the Civil Rights Movement and the national political institutions, including Congress and the Executive Branch. In this position labor had been able to shape specific legislative outcomes in a way that best suited its own interests. So while they worked for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, including Title VII, they also sought to ensure that Title VII would not have an adverse impact on their own core constituency of white men in the primary sector of the labor market. Thus they sought to protect the status of those workers while simultaneously supporting equal employment legislation for black workers and women who up until then were largely excluded from the best jobs in the primary labor market.
While the AFL-CIO was able to successfully control the legislative agenda so as to protect their members' employment status, they were unable to control the expansion of fair employment coverage once the law went into effect. They were faced with external pressure from two sources--black workers supported by various civil rights organizations and the federal courts. The AFL-CIO exerted little political influence over either of these two groups.
By the late 1960s this pressure posed such a great threat to the traditional status of the AFL-CIO's base that it responded by opposing any further strengthening of the enforcement powers of either the EEOC or the OFCC. In doing so, they united with some of the most conservative opponents of fair employment, who had predicted during the debate over Title VII that its enactment would threaten existing union members' status. The result was the collapse of the liberal civil rights coalition and along with it, the end of any consensus on the future direction of employment policies.
Through its political strength the AFL-CIO had effectively determined the limits of employment reform. The mass activities of the Civil Rights Movement were sufficient to force the Democratic Party to prioritize its demands. Yet, the movement's lack of institutionalized political power left it dependent on the willingness of the Party leadership and organized labor to mobilize their institutional political resources in order to gain the enactment of its demands.
Moving beyond the New Deal policy agenda to a set of social policies designed to completely eliminate remaining barriers to equal access in education, jobs, and housing, required a shift in the balance of power within the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The conflict within the liberal civil rights coalition after 1964 made it clear that blacks were no longer willing to accept a secondary position within the old coalition. This, however, was unacceptable to organized labor which threatened to abandon the coalition rather than give up its dominant position.
Full employment may be a demand that has the power to unify all the components of the liberal coalition, yet it is an inadequate solution to black employment needs. If it were enacted, it would only guarantee an adequate number of jobs for all who want to work, yet it cannot guarantee equal access to all sectors of the economy. There have been previous periods of full employment in the American economy, during World War II
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Publication information: Book title: Dream and Reality:The Modern Black Struggle for Freedom and Equality. Contributors: Jeannine Swift - Editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1991. Page number: 120.