The Study of Man: Union Democracy and the Public Good
For the past ten years sociologists and political scientists have been making intensive studies of trade union organization, a subject formerly the exclusive preserve of radicals, labor historians, and civil libertarians. One of the most important studies in this field to have been published recently is Union Democracy, an analysis of the International Typographical Union, by S. M. Lipset, M. Trow, and J. Coleman, all sociologists. Their work is significant not only for the light it sheds on the ITU, but also because it raises a fundamental question about trade union democracy and the public good in the United States today.
After a thorough examination of the ITU, the authors suggest in their conclusion that the ITU “may well serve as a touchstone against which the internal political processes of other unions, and of other voluntary groups, such as the American Legion or the American Medical Association, may be appraised and criticized”—even though they believe that “the fundamental requirements for democracy cannot be met most of the time in most unions or other voluntary groups,” with their “normal” pattern of organizational oligarchy and bureaucratization. Although Union Democracy thus casts the ITU as “a model of the trade union in a democratic society,” its authors do not discuss this subject at any great length: their chief concern is with those internal factors which have sustained democratic processes in the union. In this article, I should like first to review the conditions making for democracy in the ITU, and then go on to discuss this larger question: Is a democratically run union like the ITU, whose leaders and rank and file believe their function is restricted to job protection, necessarily more useful socially than unions which are autocratically managed?
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