The Right and Labor in America: Politics, Ideology, and Imagination

The Right and Labor in America: Politics, Ideology, and Imagination

The Right and Labor in America: Politics, Ideology, and Imagination

The Right and Labor in America: Politics, Ideology, and Imagination

Synopsis

The legislative attack on public sector unionism that gave rise to the uproar in Wisconsin and other union strongholds in 2011 was not just a reaction to the contemporary economic difficulties faced by the government. Rather, it was the result of a longstanding political and ideological hostility to the very idea of trade unionism put forward by a conservative movement whose roots go as far back as the Haymarket Riot of 1886. The controversy in Madison and other state capitals reveals that labor's status and power has always been at the core of American conservatism, today as well as a century ago.

The Right and Labor in America explores the multifaceted history and range of conservative hostility toward unionism, opening the door to a fascinating set of individuals, movements, and institutions that help explain why, in much of the popular imagination, union leaders are always "bosses" and trade union organizers are nothing short of "thugs." The contributors to this volume explore conservative thought about unions, in particular the ideological impulses, rhetorical strategies, and political efforts that conservatives have deployed to challenge unions as a force in U.S. economic and political life over the century. Among the many contemporary books on American parties, personalities, and elections that try to explain why political disputes are so divisive, this collection of original and innovative essays is essential reading.

Excerpt

In the years since the publication of this book, two seemingly contradictory phenomena have framed the way many Americans think about working people and the institutions that once represented their interests. Today, virtually all politicians and pundits, even those decidedly on the right, think income inequality a serious and pressing problem in the United States. Even as economists declared the country in recovery from the Great Recession, family incomes remained stagnant in the face of rising productivity. That alarmed Mortimer Zuckerman, the influential and opinionated conservative who runs a media empire in New York. He editorialized that American workers are finding that the “mismatch between reward and effort makes a mockery of the American dream.” Republican Jeb Bush agreed. “If you’re born poor today, you’re more likely to stay poor,” Bush told conservatives at a 2015 meeting of National Review staffers and supporters. “While the last eight years have been pretty good ones for top earners,” announced his presidential campaign web site, “they’ve been a lost decade for the rest of America.”

As a consequence, the movement to boost the minimum wage, even to $15 an hour, has gained remarkable traction, if not in the Republicancontrolled Congress, then certainly outside Capitol Hill. Many big cities on the West Coast, in the upper Midwest, and along the Northeastern corridor have all passed ordinances that roll out incremental minimum-wage increases. Some laws will raise hourly pay by more than 30 percent within just a few years. A handful of cities and states have even sought to intervene within the workplace itself by mandating sick leave for employees and prohibiting managers from scheduling work in an unpredictable fashion.

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