Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Rebuilding Labor Power in the Postindustrial United States

October 15, 2019

An article by Andrew Schrank was recently published in the ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Workers in the United States have lost their voice (or influence) in Washington and the workplace. Industrial unions are ill-suited to the postindustrial economy, and alternative organs of representation and influence (i.e., “alt-labor”) are trapped in a vicious circle of vulnerability and volatility that limits their likely growth. As a result of this, power is increasingly skewed toward employers and their political allies, who add to labor’s difficulties by eliminating and evading remaining labor protections. The federal government could help to restore a balance of power between workers and employers by establishing and enforcing a robust wage floor: (1) a $15 an hour minimum wage, (2) a nationwide hotline for workers who believe that their rights had been violated (“911 for workers”), and (3) a database that would allow regulatory agencies and worker organizations to rationalize and coordinate labor and employment law efforts. Doing so would produce a positive feedback loop so workers regain their voice on the job and in politics.