A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance Co.Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer The U.S. Labor Movement: From Ostracism to Partnership By Arnon Gutfield The following speech, reprinted with permission, was made at Tel Aviv University last year to commemorate the establishment of a Chair in Labor Economics by Bernard Rapoport. The organized national trade union has existed in the U.S. for over 100 years. However, its story is dissimilar to that of the history of labor unions in other western nations that underwent the upheaval of the industrial revolution. Much to the amazement of Socialists and Radicals from both sides of the Atlantic, the American trade union movement rarely turned to Socialist platforms. Moreover, U.S. trade union leadership consistently and vociferously rejected Socialism. Historians are enamoured of the various Socialist, Marxist, and Syndicalist parties and unions that emerged in the U.S., filling library shelves with studies analyzing and interpreting them. Common to all these parties are the facts that their membership was very small and their influence mostly nonexistent. The anti-socialist attitude is a major theme cutting across the history of the nationally organized trade union movement in the U.S. Therefore, the American national labor union serves as a true mirror of the ideologies and values unique to the U.S. and its institutions. The values of the labor movement and its methods of action as they emerged, reflected the economic, social, political, and cultural values which characterized the entire American society. Thus the comparison between the role of socialism and its minute power in the U.S. generally and in the labor movement particularly when compared to its role and place in other industrial European societies highlights the uniqueness of the American experience. The question of why did socialism fail in the U.S. occupied and disturbed numerous scholars and leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, especially when considering the belief of many Europeans in the second half of the 19th century that the two great Utopias -America and Socialism will merge into one great millenarian triumph on the endless virgin plains of the U.S. Karl Marx wrote in 1873: “Now that the U.S. has overtaken England in industrial development, the American labor force will be able to establish its political power.” Frederick Engels explained in the late 1880s that the trade union movement in the U.S., devoid of a feudal tradition, would become an independent workers party with ten months! He was sure that this would be a rapid process. But the examples of trade unions led by radicals are few and exceptional. Numerous reasons exist for the support of American workers of the American political, economic, and social system and its consistent opposition to “European ideas” such as Socialism. First and foremost we must remember that the characteristics of the American political system were established unlike those of modern Europe long before the industrial revolution. In Europe those values were established during the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. they were set before its commencement. A great portion of America’s workers gained the right to vote and otherwise participate politically, long before industrialization. This is one of the main reasons as to why the various political affiliations do not closely parallel social strata as in Europe. In Europe, ethnic and religious groups lived in distinct areas and were important centres of political activity and pressure, but in the U.S. these groups were usually dispersed amongst the general population and in most cases minorities accepted and identified with the customs and values of the general American society. More important, America’s workers always regarded themselves as potential Capitalists; working to realize the American dream of success. The classical battle in Europe was always between the “haves” and the “have nots” while the battle in the U.S. was between the “haves” and the “will haves.” Most workers grasped that any attack on capitalism was a threat to their chances of achieving “success,” and thus gaining wealth and political and social influence. Indeed, they became fierce soldiers in the struggle against changing much of the status quo the system that promised wealth and power to the hard working and industrious. Americans paid homage and worshipped American Income Life Insurancc Company EXECUTIVE OFFICES: P.O. EIOX 208, WACO, TEXAS 76703. a17.772.3050 BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer 16 MAY 6, 1988
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