The Exceptional Decline of the American Labor Movement
This paper adopts a historical/new institutionalist perspective to explain why the decline of the American labor movement has been exceptional in comparison to other labor movements, and especially its Canadian counterpart. Under this perspective, national founding conditions and traditions become embedded in institutional norms that shape national institutional environments and trajectories, substantially constraining labor movements and hence accounting for their development and future. The author argues that the founding conditions of the United States gave rise to “mobilization biases”—biases affecting the various parties’ relative ability to mobilize resources, and thus ultimately privileging some interests over others—that explain both why the labor movement developed as it did and why it has declined. He concludes that, in view of these biases and the norms underpinning them, the American labor movement’s future (unlike the future of its European counterparts) lies in perpetual struggle rather than the pursuit of a long-term accord.
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