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social sciences


At the end of the 21st century’s first decade, the U. S. trade union movement is undoubtedly in crisis. Problems abound, with no easy solutions in sight. Elected in 1995 to lead the American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO), the “New Voice” team headed by John Sweeney buoyed the hopes of trade union reformers that it would overhaul the stultifying bureaucracy of the AFL–CIO, which Lane Kirkland, the previous federation president, did little to dismantle or significantly alter during his 16 years in office. Additionally, Sweeney promised to beef up the resources devoted to union organizing in an attempt to reverse labor’s downward trajectory, although he was unsuccessful in halting the precipitous decline in union density. Moreover, Sweeney presided over the first major schism in decades within the U. S. trade union movement when a number of large unions disaffiliated from the AFL–CIO and went on to form the Change to Win Federation (CTW) in the fall of 2005. Finally, with the worst economic recession confronting the global economy since the Great Depression of the 1930s, U. S. labor still had trouble gaining traction for its program with the citizenry at large, who had experienced the brutishness and nastiness of eight years of the George W. Bush administration. In spite of these substantial problems, which are all dealt with in this short, concise volume, Michael Yates makes an extremely convincing case, in a clear, well-written and eloquent manner, that unions still do matter, perhaps now more than ever, and that they are, in fact, our best hope for achieving an egalitarian society in the United States today.


This article was originally published by Guilford Publications Inc. and can be found at