Man, Work, and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Occupations

By Sigmund Nosow; William H. Form | Go to book overview

ATTITUDES OF '"PROGRESSIVE" TRADE- UNION LEADERS · Alvin W. Gouldner

In a study of trade-union leaders in New York City we . . . were concerned with the way in which external elements--in the social and cultural structures--play a role in modifying the leader's attitudes and values.

From the point of view of the way in which they regard their offices --and it is only this aspect of the union leader's value system which we shall discuss--two polar types of trade-union leaders have been discerned. One of these, sometimes called the "business unionist," sees himself as the middleman involved in the sale of the union member's labor power to the employer. As such, he is very much subject to the same motivations as any other entrepreneur. He conceives of his office principally in terms of the pecuniary rewards, the security, and the prestige it affords him. Like other "captains of industry" he feels impelled to seek out and capture his own "main chance." We have called the antithesis of this type the "progressive" leader.

. . . The union is viewed as that institution through which the progressive leader works for his "principles" and for "humanity." The progressive leader believes that his own goals are qualitatively different from those of the ordinary worker's in that they are superpersonal.

To some extent these norms are at variance with those which are dominant in our society. To work for one's "ideals" or to work for "others," to belittle personal success and ascendancy--all these union norms implicitly contradict one of the basic elements in our culture, which, as Robert S. Lynd states, "stresses individual competitive aggressiveness as the basis of individual and collective security."1 As a consequence, the system into which these interrelated norms are integrated is subjected to an unrelenting pressure which, because it is often exercised through the most innocent and commonplace channels, is all the more effective.

The union is not isolated from the larger society in which it finds itself. The union leader was born into this larger society and matured in a family, neighborhood, and school, all of which accepted the premises of this society. The progressive leader cannot, of course, wish out of existence the norms he learned to accept in youth simply because they are now inconsistent with those prevailing in the union. Thus, the norms of the larger society become more or less repressed in a sense "encysted," within the personality of the union leader. They can be and are, however, reactivated under certain conditions which are neither accidental nor idiosyncratic.


Some Sociological Factors in Attitude Modification

In the beginning, the leading participants in the union were young men and women who had no families of their own and who were willing to

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