Same As It Ever Was? The Structure of the Working Class


  • Peter Meiksins





There is a story you will hear told over and over again in sympathetic commentary on the contemporary American labor movement: The American labor movement has declared its intent to organize, once again, the American working class. After decades of stagnation and decline, and faced with the virtual extinction of private sector unionism, organized labor has finally realized that it needs to return to the aggressive organizing tactics that were the key to its success in the past. But, while the tactics may be old, those being organized are not. In fact, one of the reasons for the decline of American unionism has been the unions' inability and unwillingness to grasp that there is a "new work force" in the United States. This more diverse workforce has developed as the demographic composition of the workforce has changed and as the evolution of capitalism has altered the overall occupational structure and the conditions of work in both old and new occupations. This "new work force" needs to be organized, to be sure. But it will not be unless the labor movement abandons the "narrow" unionism of the past, with its focus on white, male industrial workers, replacing it with a more flexible, diverse unionism responsive to the diverse employees and workplaces of the post-industrial age.

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