Organized Labor




Elizabeth McKillen

An oft-quoted blue collar worker, questioned about international issues by pollsters in the 1940s, quipped: "Foreign Affairs! That's for people who don't have to work for a living." Given the complexity of the world order that emerged in the aftermath of World War II and the long hours that most working people labored, such sentiments are easy to understand. Yet since the mid-nineteenth century, when national labor unions emerged in the United States, many workers, grassroots labor activists, and trade union leaders have believed that political relations among nation states, transnational economic developments, and international labor migrations should be of vital concern to the American working class. U.S. labor groups and trade unions have sometimes sought to exercise international influence through international labor organizations or by encouraging transnational forms of collective action among workers. At other times, they have focused primarily on influencing U.S. foreign policy and economic expansion. In an effort to wield power in Washington, D.C., labor groups have typically engaged either in traditional forms of interest group lobbying or have participated in evolving corporatist power-sharing arrangements among business, trade union, and government leaders within the executive branch of government. Dominant trade union groups such as the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations that pursued international influence both by participating in international labor organizations and by trying to forge a corporatist partnership with business and state representatives in promoting U.S. foreign policy goals often discovered that these two avenues to power led in different directions.

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See also Economic Policy and Theory ; Internationalism ; Multinational Corporations ; Race and Ethnicity ; Tariff Policy ; Wilsonianism .

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