In general, the article entitled Moving beyond the critical synthesis: does the law preclude a future for US unions? written by Richard W. Hurd is the analysis of The State and the Unions written by Christopher L. Tomlins in 1985, which evaluates his opinion and observations with respect to the developments that have occurred for the past twenty-five years. In his book, Tomlins stated that “the New Deal offered only a counterfeit liberty to labor”, which corresponds to the current tendency of the wane of unions and the minimization of protection laws for labor force (Tomlins, 1985). Indeed, numerous failures to restore unions that have occurred over the past twenty-five years demonstrate that this decline is not only a sign of internal weakness and institutional firmness but also a result of external pressure. Therefore, any resemblance of freedom that the government of the U.S. offers to the working class is a fake which originates not merely from the constraints of labor law but also from a variety of neoliberal policies in the sphere of the economy (Hurd, 2013).
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In addition, in his book, Tomlins severely criticizes the National Labor Relation Act (NLRA) claiming that it is a collection of “legal rules and institutional constraints” that demotivates workers and eventually leads to the weakening of labor force (Tomlins, 1985). This issue was particularly relevant in the 1980s. At that time, the density of private sector union was in an extreme decline, which made even some outstanding labor leaders agree with Tomlins and criticize the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
In fact, 1985 was a crucial year for the labor movement, primarily due to the introduction of the American Federation Labor that focused on the union revitalization. The act was called The Changing Situation and offered five different sets of recommendations. Two of them, namely, the improvement of organizing methods and the increase in member participation and activism are still relevant today. At first, the initiatives that were going to address these issues were called the organizing model in contrast to the servicing model, which was a traditional approach to the representation of unions. The majority of the unions approved the new model, and some of them even initiated campaigns to inspire activism. For example, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) introduced a campaign aimed at the increase of militancy during the negotiations (Dubofsky & McCartin, 2017). Moreover, they encouraged local unions to apply the organizing model in all spheres of their activity.
However, notwithstanding all collaborative efforts to create an activist culture, which had lasted for a decade, the density of unions was continuing to wane in the middle of the 1990s. In 1995, a new team was elected as the senior officers of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), which promised to stop this decline and renovate the labor movement system (Hattam, 2014). They proposed radical changes in their strategy that would improve labor even in the framework of the NLRA’s constraints. In the first couple of years, unions showed great enthusiasm in this program. However, at the end of the 1990s, they realized that this program was difficult to implement and if it was used, it would create many problems that could lead to the perpetual struggle between the government and the working class (Hurd, 2013). Thus, unions preferred stability and refused the program.
As a result, the decline continued, and the unions that were willing to implement radical changes were frustrated, as the majority decided to maintain the status quo. In 2005, the SEIU made six important unions leave the AFL-CIO in order to form Change to Win (CTW) which led to dissension between these two organizations. For the first several years, this program showed a great promise, but the internal warfare at UNITE-HERE and the SEIU itself undermined the potential benefits, and the program was terminated (Hattam, 2014). In the light of the recent events, it is important to note that Obama’s NLRB is trying to uphold the important rights for unions and workers. New rules introduced in 2012 by the board were aimed at the acceleration of the process of certification in a way that the Carter bill did it before (Dubofsky & McCartin, 2017). Furthermore, these rules are also actively supported by the AFL-CIO.
At the end of the article, Hurd states that neoliberal ideas that originate from the Austrian school of economics are incorporated into the Republican thinking and have a slight influence on Democrats and various social democratic parties all over the world. Only in this framework, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) campaign represents a progressive approach, though, in fact, it was another effort to realize what was promised by the New Deal (Hurd, 2013). In the past, the Wagner Act offered a constrained freedom, but that freedom seemed to be much more real than those that are proposed by the government now.
Thus, overall, despite all the disadvantages of contemporary programs, the current tendency in the sphere of labor unions gives hope for their final revitalization. Even though labor unions are still in decline, this process has significantly decelerated in comparison to that in the 1980s (Dubofsky & McCartin, 2017). Nevertheless, there are many problems that must be overcome in order to renovate the system of labor unions.
Dubofsky, M., & McCartin, J. A. (2017). Labor in America: A history. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Hattam, V. C. (2014). Labor visions and state power: The origins of business unionism in the United States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Hurd, R. W. (2013). Moving beyond the critical synthesis: Does the law preclude a future for US unions? Labor History, 54(2), 193-200.
Tomlins, C. L. (1985). The state and the unions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.