Publication Date

Winter 1992


[Excerpt] The social context of this four-decade decline challenges a central assumption of the cyclical theory. More than a third of the decline occurred during the 1950s and 1960s, decades of broad economic growth and, for the 1960s, of liberal Democratic ascendancy. Labor lost another 15 percent during the stagflation of the 1970s, despite the Democratic return to power in the wake of a discredited Republican administration. By the 1980s, when a structurally weakened labor movement faced Ronald Reagan, plant closings and demands for concessions accelerated the decline. Organized labor's absolute and proportional decline over decades in which the labor force itself grew; dramatically suggests that the hoped-for resurgence does not lie in awaiting a liberal-populist |reprise of the 1930s or "waiting for Lefty." Reagan created obstacles, but he possessed no supernatural powers. Rather, as Daniel Bell argued in 1959 in his prescient book The End of Ideology, when labor had then organized about 30 percent of the work force: "But in organizing this 30 percent, they have reached a saturation mark: they have organized as much of their potential as they can."


Suggested Citation
Salvatore, N. A. (1992). The decline of labor: A grim picture, a few proposals [Electronic version]. Dissent, 39(1), 86-92.

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© Dissent. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.