Studies in Leadership: Leadership and Democratic Action

By Alvin W. Gouldner | Go to book overview

Local Union Leadership1The data for this previously unpublished paper were secured on a Social Science Research Council Pre-doctoral Field Fellowship in 1946-1947.

BY ELI CHINOY

AS UNIONS have anchored themselves solidly in the American scene, labor leadership has apparently become a new avenue of social mobility. 2Unions have given men and women who otherwise would have been condemned to a narrow range of opportunity a chance to do more challenging work, to secure a higher income, and to achieve social power. As the union's existence has been recognized by industry, the pressure has been removed from it and the status of its leaders has changed. Instead of being an outcast from respectable society and a threat to the established order, the labor leader is increasingly a sought-after person in civic life, although it would be easy to over-estimate the degree of acceptance among the public at large.

Although in the eyes of the public, labor leadership is such men as Walter Reuther, John L. Lewis, and Harry Bridges, a large share of the effective work of directing union activities remains in the hands of local leadership. Overall policy may be set by the national executive board, and a single figure such as Lewis may dominate a union's program, but the day-to-day job of marshaling workers' energies into coöperative action, of guiding further local organization and setting local policy, and of representing labor in the community rests with the local officers, the shop committee, and in part even with the shop

____________________
2
"Another important contribution of the labor movement . . . is the provision of a new ladder by which the average boy or girl can rise to a position of influence. . . . Some twenty thousand men and women have risen to full time positions in leading their fellow workers." Goodwin Watson, "Labor Unions and Morale," in Civilian Morale, Second Yearbook of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, 1942, p. 379.

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