The rise and fall of unions

1870–1910: The labor and socialist movements grew together (relatedly).

1917: Revolution in Russia.

1930s: The capitalist system went into depression. As this seemed to confirm Marx’s predictions and as there was now an extant alternative, the capitalist power elites got frightened. Wanting to placate the masses, they allowed the enactment of ameliorative social legislation and the growth of unions (CIO).

1940–1970: Having been greatly strengthened, labor won concessions and higher wages.

1970s: The Soviet experiment had lost its appeal and relatively high wages were cutting into corporate profits. The capitalist power elites went on the offensive. Technology enabled them to globalize production. Wherever unions were too strong they closed down factories and off-shored production. Unions declined, wages stagnated, and profit rates soared.

It’s been all downhill for the domestic labor movement ever since.

Is there a limit to the utilization of cheap foreign labor? Is there an efficiency limit in regard to the complexity of globalized production?

No one knows if or when there might be a turnaround. Maybe never . . . and then the history will be written that a certain paradigm of social change (labor union organizing) was relevant and successful for a period
of time — about a century, from around 1870 to around 1970.



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Steven Welzer

Steven Welzer


The editor of Green Horizon Magazine, Steve has been a movement activist for many years (he was an original co-editor of DSA’s “Ecosocialist Review”).