Capitalists against Markets: The Making of Labor Markets and Welfare States in the United States and Sweden

By Peter A. Swenson | Go to book overview

13
LEGACIES AND TRANSFORMATIONS

Side by side, jointly regulated segmentalism and cartelism in the United States worked reasonably well for capital and labor as a complex regime of labor market governance in the 1950s and 1960s. A more uniform and consensual regime of solidarism functioned even better in Sweden. In both countries, there were tensions, of course, usually manifested in benign, routinized conflicts over the details of regulation. There were also deeper systemic stresses. In the United States, the rate of private sector unionization started its long slide downward in the mid–1950s. Still a dark lining in a silver cloud, the membership decline coincided, however, with remarkable signs of vitality. Take, for example, the American steel industry. Once the vanguard of belligerent anti-unionism, and then of negotiated segmentalism, steel employers continued to lead the forward march with their entry into industry-wide multi-employer bargaining in 1956. With this, they achieved a workable hybridization of segmentalism in their separate labor markets with cartelism across a shared national product market. Negotiated cartelism also seemed to advance and thrive in more predictable places. Nationwide centralized bargaining in coal solidified in 1950 and dominated the industry through the 1960s. In 1964, a confederation of 28 trucking employer associations signed the first of a series of nationwide market-controlling Master Freight Agreements with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. 1

Today, in retrospect, the stresses appear more fatal than they did at the time to optimistic industrial relations experts. Many if not most big American employers nursed an abiding aversion to unions. Because of the constant threat they posed to managerial authority, employers pragmatically accommodated unions, but only on segmentalist terms. They were reminded by the scattering of successful union-free giants like Kodak, Du Pont, Procter and Gamble, and IBM that unilateral segmentalism might yet prevail. Southern states, meanwhile, extended employers an open invitation to set up production in cheaper labor markets without unions' constant nibbling away at managerial sovereignty. Over time, ever increasing numbers of big employers accepted that invitation. 2

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