chapter  7
38 Pages

American Unions at the Start of the Twenty-first Century: Going Back to the Future?

The 1940s and 1950s brought the institutionalization of collective bargaining and 'job control' industrial unionism. Wartime imperatives necessitated a government-enforced truce in labour-management hostilities and normalization of industrial relations activities through the promulgation, refinement and extension of both the War Labor Board and National Labor Relations Board rulings. The end of the Second World War brought strikes and more restrictive federal legislation concerning union activities, but the general principles governing industrial relations interactions remained unchanged (Kochan, Katz and McKersie, 1986, p. 33). Sustained consumer demand for mass-produced American goods continued to provide a munificent environment where unionism flourished. Employer efforts to roll back negotiated wage and benefit gains continued on-and-off throughout the 1950s, but an increasing number of employers turned to a policy of accommodation: buying labour peace by yielding to union demands for more generous terms and conditions of employment. The institutionalization process continued and appeared to be strengthened by the merger of the rival peak trade union federations into the AFL-CIO in the mid-1950s. At the time of the newly created federation, aggregate union membership accounted for about one-third of all non-agricultural, and 25 per cent of total, employment.