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Labor's Time of Troubles:
The Failure of Bread-and-Butter Unionism

- Abstract

ORGANIZED labor in the United States is in serious difficulties today-and it may prove to be the healthiest thing that has happened to it in the last fifteen years. Born of insecurity and bred in conflict, American unions have traditionally tended to lose their sense of mission in times of peace and prosperity. Now that they are under attack in Congress, in the courts, at the bargaining table, and on the picket line, the unions have an opportunity to re-forge their bonds with their members by dedicating themselves anew to the proposition that unionism is a cause, rather than a business.

Indeed, if some of the nation’s richest and most powerful unions are not to find themselves relegated to an increasingly inferior role in collective bargaining, and to suffer an eventual drastic decline in their power and prestige, they must overcome the present estrangement and apathy of their own members. For employers in mass-production industries, convinced that they have been “easy marks” for labor demands since the dawn of the New Deal, have resolved to put an end to the long series of union gains. The employers have clearly determined to make their stand at this time, no matter what the cost in strikes or future ill-will may be. The year ahead should thus provide significant clues as to the ultimate outcome of this clash between Big Labor and Big Industry.

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