Knocking on Labor's Door: Union Organizing and the Origins of the New Economic Divide (1968-1985)
Windham, Anna Lane
Greene, Julie M
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ABSTRACT Title of dissertation: KNOCKING ON LABOR'S DOOR: UNION ORGANIZING AND THE ORIGINS OF THE NEW ECONOMIC DIVIDE (1968-1985) Anna Lane Windham, Doctor of Philosophy, 2015 Dissertation directed by: Professor Julie Greene, Department of History The 1970s were a pivotal decade for the creation of twenty-first century economic inequality, and the loss of union power was one important driver away from shared U.S. prosperity. Yet why did U.S. labor grow so weak? Much recent scholarship shifts blame for labor's decline to unions and the working class, and asserts that private-sector workers were simply no longer trying to organize by the mid-1970s. The dissertation instead paints the 1970s as a decade of working-class promise and reveals a previously-unstudied wave of half a million workers a year who tried to form unions in the private sector. Many of these workers were the women and people of color who had long been excluded from the nation's best jobs and from some unions, yet who had recently gained new access through Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Once these workers got the coveted jobs, many went knocking on labor's door. This dissertation explains how after World War II union organizing became the narrow door through which workers could access the most secure tier of the U.S. employer-provided social welfare system: collective bargaining. Increased resistance to union organizing among employers by the 1970s, however, thwarted these workers' organizing attempts. When fewer workers could access unions, the stage was set for growing economic precarity and inequality. This dissertation features four case studies: the largest union election ever in the South which was among Newport News, Virginia shipyard workers in 1978; campaigns in 1974 and 1985 by Cannon Mills textile workers in Kannapolis, North Carolina; the 1979 campaign among 5300 department store at Woodward & Lothrop in Washington, DC; and the women office workers' group "9to5" in Boston who forged a new kind of labor organizing. Sources include government statistics, oral history, local and national union records, business organization archives, polling, periodicals and previously unexamined anti-union consultant records.