Why are unions weaker in the US than in Canada, two otherwise similar countries? This difference has shaped politics, policy, and levels of inequality. Conventional wisdom points to differences in political cultures, party systems, and labor laws. But Barry Eidlin's systematic analysis of archival and statistical data shows the limits of conventional wisdom, and presents a novel explanation for the cross-border difference. He shows that it resulted from different ruling party responses to worker upsurge during the Great Depression and World War II. Paradoxically, US labor's long-term decline resulted from what was initially a more pro-labor ruling party response, while Canadian labor's relative long-term strength resulted from a more hostile ruling party response. These struggles embedded 'the class idea' more deeply in policies, institutions, and practices than in the US. In an age of growing economic inequality and broken systems of political representation, Eidlin's analysis offers insight for those seeking to understand these trends, as well as those seeking to change them.
Barry Eidlin is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at McGill University, Montreal. He is a comparative historical sociologist interested in the study of class, politics, social movements, and social change. His research has been published in the American Sociological Review, Politics & Society, Sociology Compass, and Labor History, among other venues, and has won awards from the American Sociological Association, the Labor and Employment Relations Association, and the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States. He also comments regularly in various media outlets on labor politics and policy.
Part I. Explaining Union Density Divergence: 1. Structural and individual explanations; 2. Policy explanations; 3. Working class power in the United States and Canada; Part II. Political Articulation and the Class Idea: 4. Party-class alliances in the United States and Canada, 1932-1948; 5. Repression and rebirth: red scares and labor's postwar identity, 1946-1972; 6. Class versus special interest: labor regimes and density divergence, 1911-2016; Appendix A: data; Appendix B: archival sources; Appendix C: permissions.