Interpreting the Labor Movement

Interpreting the Labor Movement

Interpreting the Labor Movement

Interpreting the Labor Movement

Excerpt

In December, 1950, the Industrial Relations Research Association devoted a major session of its annual meeting to the topic "Theory of the Labor Movement--a Reappraisal." The enthusiastic discussions which characterized and followed this session sparked a realization that the time had come for a "new look" at this vital institution of American life. The works of John R. Commons, Robert Hoxie, Selig Perlman, and others which had dealt with the labor movement of the pre-New Deal era still provided important insights into the nature of the labor movement that emerged out of the New Deal. But a revolution had occurred. It was not only that organized labor had expanded more than five-fold, that collective bargaining determined the conditions of employment in most of the major industries of the nation outside of agriculture and trade, and that the right of free organization was firmly established in the law. Underlying all of these was the fact that the labor movement had become engrained in the basic fabric of American culture, had become a major force in the political and social as well as economic life of America.

The growth of organized labor, of course, has not been ignored by students of contemporary American history. On the contrary, a vast and steadily growing volume of books, pamphlets, and articles have described and analyzed numerous phases of organized labor's relations with management, government, and the local community. But few studies of a theoretical character have been produced to illuminate the nature of the labor movement as a whole. The gaps and inadequacies of the older theories have remained largely unchallenged. It was this fact which prompted the executive board of the IRRA first to institute a formal discussion of the Commons-Perlman theories and then to direct the preparation of a brief series of essays on various aspects of American labor from the point of view of general theory.

The present volume was designed to stimulate new thinking about labor theory, not to provide a definitive and integrated theoretical structure. The size of the volume was deliberately limited in advance to approximately 200 pages. This immediately imposed a limitation on the number of topics to be covered and the comprehensiveness of the treatment of any topic. Many important topics had to be omitted and none could be dealt with exhaustively. Each author was given a free hand to approch his subject in any way that he wished, with the sole understanding that the emphasis should be on theory and analysis . . .

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