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|What unions no longer do : economic and political consequences of union decline in the post-accord era|
Economics & finance|
|Summary||In the United States as elsewhere, trade unions occupy a unique institutional space at the intersection of the economy, society, and the polity. In the economy, unions have served as an institutional buffer for workers against the vagaries of market forces. Unions have socially integrative functions, drawing individuals into a collective organization and providing the training and resources necessary to pursue collective goals. As such, historically trade unions have proved themselves powerful political actors, providing the lower- and middle-classes with a collective voice in the electoral process.|
The strategic institutional location of the labor movement has spawned a rich literature investigating the causes of labor's recent decline. No comparable effort exists to explain the broad consequences oflabor's loss in the United States. This dissertation begins to fill the gap by examining some of the major effects of labor union decline in the United States since the early 1980s in the economy and polity.
Chapter 2 highlights the ways in which union decline widens inter-occupational wage inequality not only by limiting the union wage premium, but also by unions' reduced ability to narrow wage dispersion across occupations. Chapter 3 uses previously unreleased data on recent strike patterns, arguing that earlier economic models accounting for work stoppage trends fail to account for the dramatically altered institutional environment of the 1980s and 1990s.Chapter 4 investigates whether the positive strike-wage relationship that persisted throughout the immediate post-war decades has dissolved in the more recent period of rapid union membership decline and increased employer offensives against labor. I argue that the strike, once labor's most powerful weapon and one of society's most visible sources of collective action, is no longer an effective tool in labor's arsenal. Chapter 5 turns to the political sphere, where I evaluate labor's political influence during the closing years of the twentieth century. I contend that the confluence of managerial hostility, state indifference, and economic transformation has reduced the labor movement to such a degree that unions no longer influence aggregate turnout rates. The union vote premium means little if a miniscule portion of the workforce is unionized.
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