Labor Unions in America A Response to Term Paper

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Labor Unions in America: A response to Hard Work by Rick Fantasia and Kim Voss.

According to the authors, why have labor unions struggled in the U.S. How does their explanation resonate with major contemporary perspectives in the field of social movements? What do the authors have to say in regard to the possibilities and limits of labor union revitalization in the U.S. How does their view resonate with the major contemporary perspectives in the field of social movements?

One of the first problems labor unions have experienced during their various efforts at organizing in America over the past century or so of American history, is the perception that unions are foreign entities and constructions, rather than American-grown products. Why this should rankle America so, a nation of immigrants, founded upon foreign concepts and cultures, seems curious. But according to the authors of Hard Work, Rick Fantasia and Kim Voss, this is only one of the many contradictions in the attitudes of America towards labor unions. America holds dear to the principle that in the land of opportunity, if one works hard as an individual, one will be inevitably remunerated for one's labor, whether one is part of a union or not.

This is one of the central problems for American workers intent upon unionizing their industries and forming a coherent and unified voice. Ideologically, unions are defined as anti-American. And, in some sense, anti-unionists have a point in that, from a national and economic perspective, structurally speaking, American workers must navigate a very different labor market than their European counterparts. Fantasia and Voss point out that the American worker must deal with a labor market that is comprised of highly decentralized workplaces and where job skills tend to be acquired relatively informally and unsystematically, in contrast to the European educational and economic market for employee labor and skilled employment.

Today, in Europe, formal training programs provide occupational qualifications that are transferable to other job sites. In the United States workers tend to learn "on the job," acquiring firm-specific skills on an informal and individual basis. Workers thus develop a loyalty to a trade in Europe. In America, workers develop loyalty to a company. This is rather ironic, given that so much of anti-union rhetoric has been characterized in America as anti-individualistic. Yet in Europe, worker's rights are advanced by organizations such as unions that exist only for their constituency, while companies are founded to enrich owners and shareholder, not the common workers in the company's employment.

Another structural obstacle impeding wide-scale American unionization is that in contrast to Europe wage settings for various trades and occupations are centralized and coordinated by the unions and the government. In the United States pay scales are set for a largely nonunion workforce through the mostly decentralized and uncoordinated with a lack of overall standardization, resulting in much wider wage disparities among workers doing the same job in different locations than is the case in European countries.

Any suggestion, however, of adopting the European attitude or structural reformations in regard to unions or labor has always been stridently resisted, however. During the prosperity of the 1990's, newspaper articles boasted that the American economy, because of its plurality and flexibility, was a factory of job creation in contrast to Old Europe. America's high productivity and growth was linked to its scorning of the outmoded and antiquated European welfare state and trade unionism, creating an easy if dubious cause and effect relationship that ignored other political, technical, and historical factors that gave birth to such a flush of prosperity.

Voss and Fantasia's critique rings true with other social theorists when one recalls that when contemporary journalists scorned efforts at unionization, such voices of the new economy of the 1990s were being anything but new in their outlook. Although these advocates touted the unprecedented levels of economic creativity unleashed by unhampered corporate growth and criticized European's pursuit of a more humane work and life balance, they were merely recapitulating a very old…

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