Quote of the moment: Goodbye unions, goodbye democracy

March 20, 2011

Nelson Lichtenstein, University of California - Santa Barbara

Nelson Lichtenstein, University of California - Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Independent photo

Most jobs in America are not in manufacturing or subject to international competition. So the service sector, retail, construction — there are a huge number of jobs where international competition has nothing to do with it. The obstacles there are domestic. Labor law is totally dysfunctional. Workers really don’t have the right to form unions of their choosing. So you’re right to be pessimistic, just for different reasons.

I also have a mega-historical answer to that question, though. If you look at the last 150 years of history across all nations with a working class of some sort, the maintenance of democracy and the maintenance of a union movement are joined at the hip. We’ve seen this dramatically reconfirmed in Spain and South Korea and Poland over the years. If democracy has a future, then so too must trade unionism. Sadly, that doesn’t offer much hope for my lifetime. But there is such a thing as conflict between capital and labor.

Nelson Lichtenstein is arguably the most influential living historian of American labor; interviewed by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post blogs, March 10, 2011


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