Corporate moderates had forged a compromise with labor leaders in the way that their general approach to most problems and the earlier efforts of the National Civic Federation on labor issues would lead us expect. In the bronco utah operations process they developed a new government structure and thereby gave renewed legitimacy to collective bargaining and government mediation of labor disputes. In any case, the passage of the act is a classic example of how a new law, in this case the National Industrial Recovery Act, can lead to outcomes that no group anticipated or desired, but it is also a demonstration of the importance of government in shaping — and even supporting — class conflict.

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Chart 2 shows union and non-union employment in the construction industry. Unlike the manufacturing sector, the construction industry has grown considerably since the late 1970s. However, in the aggregate, that growth has occurred exclusively in non-union jobs, expanding 159 percent since 1977. As a result, union coverage fell from 38 percent to 16 percent of all construction workers between 1977 and 2008. In competitive markets, unions have very little power to raise wages and reduce profits. Companies cannot raise prices without losing business, but if union wage increases come out of normal operating profits, investors take their money elsewhere.

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The top leaders were ambivalent about strikes because disruptive actions alienated both employers and the general public, so at first they tended to focus on education, persuasion, and legislative changes. Although they emphasized their openness to unskilled as well as skilled workers, to women as well as men, and to African Americans as well as whites, they were in fact mostly white male craft workers when the union grew to a few thousand members nationwide between 1869 and 1877. After 1985, union density in the public sector stayed roughly even, standing at 35.9% in 2012.

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The result was a series of violent strikes that broke out in April and May in San Francisco , Toledo , and Minneapolis (where Marxist-Leninists who followed Leon Trotsky had the lead role). At the same time, the Senate, under enormous lobbying pressure from the corporate community, rejected Wagner’s attempt to codify the practices and case law developed by the National Labor Board . The fact that the corporate community and the Senate rejected the first version of Wagner’s bill at a time of high militancy does not fit with the frequent claim that the corporate leaders were quaking in their boots by this point. Workers in large-scale industries were therefore defeated in the first surge of unionizing efforts, but it was not simply because the companies they were up against were large, well organized, and treated gingerly by Roosevelt and his advisors.

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A labor union is an organization formed by workers in a particular trade, industry, or company for the purpose of improving pay, benefits, and working conditions. Officially known as a “labor organization,” and also called a “trade union” or a “workers union,” a labor union selects representatives to negotiate with employers in a process known as collective bargaining. When successful, the bargaining results in an agreement that stipulates working conditions for a period of time. Nor was it clear that union organizers could overcome employer resistance at the company gates. Racial divisions among workers, the continuing movement of factories to the South and overseas, and anti-union industrial relations firms might have been too much to overcome. As if all this were not enough for the corporate community, which was also trying to deal with the civil rights movement in a conciliatory way and provide political support for the Vietnam War, public-employee unions suddenly became another potential problem for them.

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A historical comparison of union membership as a percentage of all workers and union support in the U.S. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics surveyed the histories of union membership rates in industrialized countries from 1970 to 2003, and found that of 20 advanced economies which had union density statistics going back to 1970, 16 of them had experienced drops in union density from 1970 to 2003. Over the same period during which union density in the US declined from 23.5 percent to 12.4 percent, some counties saw even steeper drops. Australian unionization fell from 50.2 percent in 1970 to 22.9 percent in 2003, in New Zealand it dropped from 55.2 percent to 22.1 percent, and in Austria union participation fell from 62.8 percent down to 35.4 percent.

The union continued to pursue the matter for an additional 13 years, eventually winning the case. The school district had to pay nearly $200,000 in back pay to the convicted murdered who had made sexual advances on minor students in his role as a gym teacher. In 1980, the very same Michigan Education Association challenged the firing of an Ann Arbor gym teacher, named Mr. Abrahams, who had been accused by six of his students of having made sexual advances towards them.

Through consultation with the leading policy groups and trade associations, the corporate leaders that set it up made a deliberate attempt to enlist highly visible and respected members of the corporate community (McQuaid 1976; McQuaid 1982). At the outset, it had 41 members, representing a cross-section of business and financial executives. Several members of the Special Conference Committee were in this group, as well as officers of other large banks, retail firms, policy groups, and trade associations. Eighteen of the 60 largest banks, railroads, utilities, and manufacturing corporations of the day were linked to the BAC through the multiple corporate directorships held by some BAC members. There were also numerous regional and local businessmen from across the country. Any qualms about the administration of the act seemed to disappear for the ultraconservatives when someone they trusted, whose name and story need not sidetrack us here, was appointed as the NRA director.