Labor and Politics


  • Harry Braverman



Political Economy, Labor


Back in the 1920s, the most baffling and vexatious feature of the American scene, in the eyes of thoughtful radicals and liberals, was the powerlessness and inactivity of labor on the political front. In Europe, the long evolution of the labor movements had created powerful socialist parties. By contrast, American labor efforts were not only feeble, but seemed to be getting weaker. The local labor parties that had sprung up early in the nineteenth century lasted only a few years before succumbing to inexperience and factional conflict between nostrum peddlers. After the Civil War, a few semi-national organizations tried to blend trade-union and political functions, but their strength was limited by the weakness and decline of the organized base upon which they rested, and much of the labor politics of the day fell into confused efforts at making alliances with Greenbackism, the Single Tax movement, and Populism, with few satisfactory results. With the rise of the AFL, political non-partisanship and disentanglement became the watchwords. Independent labor politics went over largely into radical politics, had its heyday in the Debs era, and thereafter faded into a game played by isolated sects with practically no impact on the electorate.

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