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How the Civil Rights Movement Revitalized Labor Militancy Author(s): Larry Isaac and Lars Christiansen Source: American Sociological Review, Vol. 67, No. 5 (Oct., 2002), pp. 722-746 Published by: American Sociological Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3088915 Accessed: 12-03-2016 00:01 UTC Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/ info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Sage Publications, Inc. and American Sociological Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Sociological Review. http://www.jstor.org This content downloaded from 220.127.116.11 on Sat, 12 Mar 2016 00:01:29 UTC HOW THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT REVITALIZED LABOR MILITANCY LARRY ISAAC LARS CHRISTIANSEN Florida State University Augsburg College Can newly ascendant social movements revitalize the militant culture of older, insti- tutionalized movements? Recent studies have focused on relations between new ascendant social movements like the civil rights, women's, and peace movements that emerged during the postwar cycle of protest, and therefore have been unable to address this question. Focusing on revitalization as a qualitatively different form of intermovement relation, the authors examine the possibility that civil rights move- ment insurgencies and organizations revitalized workplace labor militancy during the postwar decades. Time-series models show that the civil rights movement fueled an expanded militant worker culture that challenged management and sometimes union leadership. However, this revitalization of labor militancy was contingent on institutional context (stronger in the public sector than the private sector) and form of insurgent action (protests, riots, organizations) differentially embedded in histori- cal phases (civil rights versus Black Power) of movement development. Theoretical implications for the study of social movements, industrial relations, and class con- flict are discussed. Scholars generally acknowledge that the movement as little more than race-based civil rights movement fostered serious chaos rather than the largest working-class intraclass conflict in America. From Presi- uprising since the 1930s (Bloom 1987; dent Kennedy's 1961 Executive Order re- Moody 1988). After the decline of the civil quiring unions engaged in government con- rights movement, the retrospective view tends to emphasize organized labor's hostil- tracts take affirmative action to eliminate discrimination, to the federal implementa- ity to civil rights forces during those years: tion of the Philadelphia Plan in 1969, trade Embittered white building-trade unionists who resisted federal intervention favoring unions resisted attempts to alter traditional practices that would desegregate their unions racial integration remains the dominant im- age (Quadagno 1992). Rarely, though, have (Foner 1981; Quadagno 1992). In the midst of the civil rights insurgency many observ- scholars entertained the possibility that the ers, including labor leaders, tended to see the civil rights movement contributed to inter- class shop floor conflict between workers and employers. Direct all correspondence to Larry Isaac, De- Historically, the role of the civil rights partment of Sociology, 523 Bellamy Building, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL. 32306- movement in fostering interclass labor mili- 2270 (email@example.com). This work benefited tancy has been obscured, in part, by preoc- from a Florida State University sabbatical award to the senior author, the Mildred and Claude Pep- tance. We are especially grateful to Debra per Endowment, and a National Science Founda- Minkoff for generously providing her data on tion grant (SBR-9711848) to both authors. For civil rights social movement organization den- helpful comments on early versions of this pa- sity. We also thank the ASR Editors and review- per, we thank Jim Fendrich, David Levine, Jim ers for their extensive and penetrating comments. Orcutt, Jill Quadagno, Sidney Tarrow, and Preliminary portions of this paper were presented Lowell Turner. Jamie Miller, Tim Nickel, and at the 1998 meetings of the American Sociologi- Lisa Branton provided helpful research assis- cal Association. 722 AMERIcAN SocIoLoGIcAL REVIEW, 2002, VOL. 67 (OCTOBER:722-746) This content downloaded from 18.104.22.168 on Sat, 12 Mar 2016 00:01:29 UTC CIVIL RIGHTS AND LABOR MILITANCY 723 cupation with racial divisiveness coupled mature movements that have been institu- with postmortems on the labor movement. tionally contained, held in abeyance (Taylor Scholars also have tended to analyze move- 1989), or are otherwise in decline. Second, ments one at a time; intermovement relations we analyze how institutional structures me- have only recently been analyzed systemati- diate the impact of one movement on an- other by examining militancy diffusion pro- cally, and those few studies have focused ex- clusively on contemporaneously emerging cesses specific to private sector and public movements (McAdam 1995; Meyer and sector labor. Because of differential institu- Whittier 1994; Minkoff 1997; Olzak and tional structures, composition, and political Uhrig 2001; Van Dyke 1998). Notwithstand- cultures, the militancy of the civil rights ing its valuable contributions, the develop- movement had a more potent revitalization ment of "new social movement theory" impact in the public sector than in the pri- (Kriesi et al. 1995) has tended to marginalize vate sector labor force. Third, we examine the analysis of labor as an "old," declining, the form of collective action and the histori- and less relevant movement form. None of cal phase of each movement. The civil rights the recent intermovement studies has exam- movement's revitalization of labor militancy ined the potential of newly ascendant move- moved through a complex, contingent se- ments to revitalize older, institutionalized quence that depended, in part, on changing movements. phases of these two movements. In general, Our central question addresses the influ- we show that institutional and historical con- ence of the civil rights movement on labor text matter in understanding intermovement militancy. Did the militancy of the civil impact. rights movement penetrate workplaces to re- juvenate labor-based interclass militancy at CIVIL RIGHTS AND LABOR a moment in history when it was easy to see MOVEMENT HISTORIOGRAPHY only racial conflict? We frame this question theoretically using recent developments on While the historical literature on civil rights/ intermovement dependency relations and ad- labor movement relations leaves little doubt dress several key issues ignored in this lit- that these movements shaped each other erature. First, we focus on collective action (e.g., Flug 1990; Foner 1981; Levy 1994), by labor that has not been studied in the con- the question we are interested in is: Which text of intermovement relations and elabo- of the two movements was the more militant rate "revitalization" as a new form of inter- and stood a chance of shaping the movement movement relation.1 Protest waves of a pow- culture of the other? The answer is, we be- erful ascendant movement, like the civil lieve, contingent on historical conditions and rights movement, can spawn new move- changes over time. In short, the historical ments (McAdam 1988, 1995), but they can record suggests that the militancy dynamic also revitalize militant culture within more of these two movements changed dramati- cally between the mid-1930s and the post- World War II years. 1 Intermovement militant "revitalization" re- fers to the process by which a militant culture is reawakened and expanded in one movement as a THE EARLY CIO YEARS result of diffusion processes originating in the militant actions of another movement, although Spearheaded by the Congress of Industrial the militant actions in the two different move- Organizations (CIO) from the mid-1930s to ments need not be the same. By "militancy" we the late 1940s, the industrial union move- refer to engagement in direct (confrontational, ment was a tremendous force in advancing disruptive) actions. "Vigor" or "vitality" refers to interracial unionism, civil rights, and equal- the general level of activity and strength of a ity for "blacks" (Brueggemann and Boswell movement. "Progressive" refers to movements 1998; Foner 1981; Goldfield 1993; Honey that tend to be seeking greater egalitarian change 1993; Zeitlin and Weyer 2001). The CIO in, as opposed to defending, the existing social break with the American Federation of La- order. Militancy could, of course, be a feature of bor (AFL) involved a different racial politi- actions in any sort of movement, progressive or reactionary. cal culture: Unlike the AFL, the dissident This content downloaded from 22.214.171.124 on Sat, 12 Mar 2016 00:01:29 UTC 724 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW CIO worked diligently to integrate work- for labor and civil rights issues, but prima- places, their unions, and consistently sup- rily with the stewardship of black and politi- ported federal efforts to combat discrimina- cally radical workers. tion (Zeitlin and Weyer 2001:434-41). Thus, the civil rights era began to emerge Major civil rights social movement orga- most dramatically in the 1940s as blacks be- nizations, including the National Association came increasingly urban, industrial, and pro- for the Advancement of Colored People letarianized (Korstad and Lichtenstein (NAACP), the National Urban League 1988:786). It appeared that a labor-based (NUL), and the Congress for Racial Equal- civil rights coalition was poised to transform ity (CORE), were influenced by, and in turn, American society. However, because of Cold influenced, the industrial union movement. War anti-Communism, antilabor government CORE, in particular, was significantly acts (especially the Taft-Hartley Act), the shaped by the industrial union movement: purge of left labor leadership and left unions Founders and leaders were active industrial in the CIO, the failure of both the AFL and unionists, affiliates were constituted as "lo- CIO to organize workers in the South, and cals," unions participated in CORE events, the general retreat and containment of the and CORE supported union actions (Meier union movement, the nascent black civil and Rudwick 1973). Whereas these organi- rights movement that was rooted in labor or- zations were highly critical of the racial ex- ganizations was suppressed along with the clusionary practices of the AFL, the CIO left-led CIO unions (Davis 1986; Zeitlin and was organically linked to, endorsed and sup- Weyer 2001:440-41). Consequently, the ported by, these civil rights organizations civil rights wave that emerged during the (Meier and Rudwick 1979; Moody 1988). 1950s and 1960s had a very different base, The Highlander Folk School was an im- character, and agenda (Korstad and portant source of labor movement influence Lichtenstein 1988). Dissolution of the "ur- on the civil rights movement. Founded in ban/labor/left/civil rights coalition" ulti- mately meant that the postwar civil rights Monteagle, Tennessee in 1932 by Myles Horton, the Highlander School was deeply movement would have to pursue its goals rooted in the industrial union movement, and largely without the help of the white work- by the early 1940s began to focus its activi- ing-class or organized labor. ties on the civil rights struggle. Over the next two decades, the Highlander School THE POSTWAR YEARS educated labor and civil rights activists in elements of movement culture. Many of the The actions of the AFL-CIO from their 1955 tactics (sit-downs to sit-ins, boycotts, merger throughout the modern civil rights marches), and even some songs that were to era tended to reproduce rather than challenge play key inspirational roles in the early racism within its ranks or elsewhere. Its ef- southern civil rights movement, were be- forts (along with other major institutions) queathed from the labor movement often failed to launch a frontal assault on the rac- ism that the modern civil rights movement through the Highlander School (Levy 1990: 296, 1994:12-13; Morris 1984:41-57). was beginning to challenge (e.g., Foner The role of racial egalitarianism in the in- 1981; Goldfield 1993; Hill 1982; Honey dustrial union movement has been hotly de- 1993).2 Contrasting the civil rights actions bated (Goldfield 1997:220-26). But there is convincing evidence that the impetus for 2 This is not to argue that there was no orga- successful industrial unionism in general, nized labor support for the civil rights movement during this period. There was financial support and its racially progressive actions, were ul- from a number of unions (Flug 1990; Levy 1990, timately rooted in black working-class mili- 1994); and others, like the left-led unions ex- tancy and the "urban/labor/left/civil rights pelled from the CIO in the late 1940s, built civil coalition" that formed during this period rights into their policies (Foner 1981:287). Be- (Goldfield 1997; Zeitlin and Weyer 2001). cause of their civil rights militancy, District 65 On balance, the historical record suggests of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store that the industrial union movement, and es- Clerks, and the Drug and Hospital Employees pecially the CIO, took the lead on militancy Local 1199 were Martin Luther King's two fa- This content downloaded from 126.96.36.199 on Sat, 12 Mar 2016 00:01:29 UTC CIVIL RIGHTS AND LABOR MILITANCY 725 of the CIO unions during the 1930s and 1995) that treats movements as bounded, 1940s with those of labor in the 1960s, one discrete entities in which the focus is on the life course-emergence, outcomes, and de- labor scholar characterized the latter as "missing in action" (Goldfield 1997:295), cline-of a single movement. Redirection of while another concluded, "Organized labor interest has assumed a more fluid, un- turned its back on the problems of poverty bounded view presupposing a plurality of and racism precisely at the moment that movements in a "social movement field" Black America began its fight for justice on (Calhoun 1995; Tarrow 1998). This recon- a massive scale" (Moody 1988:71). ceptualization has generated new questions
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