The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism, 1945-1968

The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism, 1945-1968

The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism, 1945-1968

The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism, 1945-1968

Excerpt

When Ronald Reagan fired 11,500 striking air traffic controllers in the summer of 1981, he signaled the end of an era in American political life. For thirty-five years, from the end of World War II through the 1970s, the labor movement had occupied a preeminent place in national politics, providing one of the most important voices within the liberal New Deal order that dominated national discourse. Union leaders enjoyed easy access to the White House and Capitol Hill, union activists filled Democratic Party councils, and union dollars financed political campaigns and legislative lobbying efforts. The Republican triumph of the 1980s changed all that. Now, after years of conservative attacks and liberal retreats, the American labor movement is little more than a hollow shell, unable to defend its members from corporate retrenchment, powerless to affect national policy, and devoid of political clout.

The collapse of organized labor has triggered a searching reexamination of labor's role in the postwar United States. How could such a powerful movement have fallen so far so quickly? scholars have asked. The answer they provide is a deeply ironic one. In a series of provocative essays, Nelson Lichtenstein, Ira Katznelson, Alan Dawley, and others have argued that at the height of the postwar liberal ascendancy organized labor sowed the seeds of its own destruction.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the emerging interpretation runs, the labor movement's militant wing, under the umbrella of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), promoted a political agenda that promised to refashion American class relations. That agenda operated on two levels.

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