Union Democracy, Radical Leadership and the Hegemony of Capital

TitleUnion Democracy, Radical Leadership and the Hegemony of Capital
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1995
AuthorsStepan-Norris, J., and Zeitlin, M.
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Pagination829 - 850
Keywordscapitalism, CIO, cold war, communism, contract negotiation, democracy, imperialism, labor unions

Are democratic or authoritarian unions more effective in defending and advancing workers' interests? Generally, the answers given are untheoretical, agnostic, or impressionistic-and unsupported by systematic empirical studies. The theory guiding our analysis is that a union with a democratic constitution, institutionalized opposition, and an active membership would tend to constitute a worker's immediate political community and sustain both class solidarity and a sense of identity between members and their leaders. As a result, such democratic unions would also defy the hegemony of capital in the sphere of production. Consistent with this theory, a contingency analysis of a sample of contracts won by CIO unions from 1938 to 1955 shows that those contracts won by stable highly democratic unions were more likely to be pro-labor than were those won by stable moderately democratic or stable oligarchical unions. The contracts won by unions with organized factions also were far more likely to be pro-labor than were those won by unions with sporadic factions or no factions. This pattern held both among the unions in the Communist camp and those in shifting or anti-Communist camps. Further OLS analysis shows that constitutional democracy, organized factions, and Communist leadership (which approached statistical significance) each had independent effects in limiting the power of capital in the immediate production process.