Labor

Guaranteeing workers a seat at the table

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Overview

The American labor movement has become deeply dysfunctional. Workers feel largely alienated from Big Labor unions, which appear focused primarily on promoting progressive politics. At 6%, the union membership rate among private-sector workers is lower than at the time of the National Labor Relations Act’s passage in 1935. That law not only fails to serve modern workers effectively, but also precludes experimentation with alternative forms of organizing.

What a tragedy. In a well-functioning capitalist system, participants meet as equals able to advance their interests through mutually beneficial relationships. Organized labor has traditionally been the mechanism that gives workers an institution of solidarity, power in the market, and representation in the workplace. Strong worker representation can make America stronger.

This has traditionally been the view of both free-market champions and social conservatives. Adam Smith warned in The Wealth of Nations that in the competition between capital and labor, employers have “the advantage in the dispute” over wage levels “and force [workers] into a compliance with their terms.” John Stuart Mill, analyzing this same conflict in Thornton on Labour and Its Claims, denounced the morals of “whoever does not wish that the labourers may prevail, and that the highest limit, whatever it be, may be attained.” In The Quest for Community, Robert Nisbet calls unions “the true supports of economic freedom,” while in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, Michael Novak identifies them as one of democratic capitalism’s “chief social inventions.” In the encyclical Laborem Exercens, St. John Paul II called them “an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies.”

At American Compass, we work to understand what workers want from their labor organizations and how the nation’s labor movement and labor law are falling short. We develop policy reforms that would allow workers to create and access new and better options.

The Seat at the Table collection makes the case for reforming and revitalizing American labor, beginning with a landmark joint statement arguing that Conservatives Should Ensure Workers a Seat at the Table. A Wall Street Journal essay, America Needs a Conservative Labor Movement, traces the history of conservative attitudes toward labor to identify the foundation on which a new movement could be built. Workers of the World surveys the wide variety of labor laws and organizations present in other countries.

The Better Bargain collection focuses on solutions, beginning with a survey of American workers that studies their experiences in the workplace, their attitudes toward organized labor in its current form, and the elements of collective representation that they would value most. Policy papers then offer concrete bargains that would require concessions from both existing unions and the business lobby, for the benefit of workers themselves: better bargains on Workplace Voice and Representation, Worker Power in the Labor Market, and Worker Solidarity and Mutual Support. The first of these has been adapted as the TEAM Act introduced by Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Jim Banks.

Start Here
9/6/2020
Conservatives Should Ensure Workers a Seat at the Table

Statement on a conservative future for the American labor movement.

Featured Content

Browse all content in the Labor library

Collections

A Better Bargain

9/6/2021

Greater Voice, Power, and Support for Workers

The Edgerton Essays

8/19/2021

Perspectives from the Working Class

A Seat at the Table

9/6/2020

A Conservative Future for the American Labor Movement

Policy Proposals

A Better Bargain: Worker Voice and Representation

9/8/2021 Chris Griswold

This paper proposes two complementary policies that together offer a genuinely better bargain for American workers: formal recognition of “works councils” and a mechanism by which workers could elect representation to their corporation’s board.

A Better Bargain: Worker Power in the Labor Market

9/21/2021 Oren Cass

This paper explains the advantages of broad-based bargaining, the key parameters that policymakers must establish, and the gradual process of experimentation by which it could gain prevalence in the American economy.

A Better Bargain: Worker Solidarity and Mutual Support

10/7/2021 Wells King

Straightforward federal reforms could enable state and local governments to partner with new labor organizations in administer portable benefits and sector-wide training.

Research

Not What They Bargained For: A Survey of American Workers

9/6/2021

The Better Bargain Survey explores workers’ attitudes about their jobs and organized labor; their appetite for greater support, voice, and power in the workplace; and their reactions to political messages and policy reforms

A Guide to Economic Inequality

4/27/2021

American inequality is higher now than at any time since WWII. The gap is wide and getting wider. Read what the data show and why it matters.

Workers of the World

9/18/2020 Wells King

Few Americans realize how our system of organized labor is an outlier among Western nations. In some European countries, unions attract a greater share of workers and maintain less adversarial relationships with business. A better understanding of these alternative models can guide American policymakers as they address our labor policy challenges.

Essays

Servants No Longer

9/8/2022 Chris Griswold

American Compass policy director Chris Griswold explores the relationship between worker power and the roots of civic friendship.

Labor’s Conservative Heart

9/8/2020 Brian Dijkema

The trade union is a quintessentially Tocquevillian institution and the one that brought down Soviet communism. Conservatives must rescue the American labor movement from Big Labor’s partisanship and restore its community-building purpose.

The Once and Future American Labor Law

9/14/2020 Michael Lind

American labor law has become worse than useless: a lower share of the private-sector labor force is organized today than before the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935. The time has come for an entirely new model.

America Needs a Conservative Labor Movement

9/17/2020 Oren Cass

American Compass’s Oren Cass argues that a strong, reformed labor movement has unique potential to advance conservative priorities.

Conversations

Policy in Brief: Worker-Run Benefits

11/3/2022

On this episode of Policy in Brief, Oren Cass and Chris Griswold discuss a proposal to allow workers to administer their own employee benefits through organizations they control.

Policy in Brief: The Workforce Training Grant

9/12/2022

On the inaugural episode of Policy in Brief, American Compass executive director Oren Cass is joined by policy director Chris Griswold to discuss the Workforce Training Grant, a proposal to create a meaningful alternative pathway to college.

Why National Conservatism Needs Worker Power

11/25/2021 Oren Cass

At the second National Conservatism conference, Oren Cass discusses the importance of worker power to the future of conservatism.

Critics Corner with Vinnie Vernuccio

10/7/2021

In this episode, Vinnie Vernuccio joins Oren in the Critics Corner. Vinnie is the president of the Institute for the American Worker and a senior fellow at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Fulfillment: A Conversation on Amazon and Regional Inequality with Alec MacGillis

4/8/2021

Fulfillment author Alec MacGillis joins American Compass research director Wells King for a conversation exploring what the growth of Amazon means for the future of inequality in the U.S., the pros and cons of “one-click America,” and how policymakers and consumers should respond.

Q&A with Freelancers Union Founder Sara Horowitz

9/15/2020 Oren Cass

Labor law has failed to evolve alongside a changing labor market. Some labor leaders have been moving ahead anyway.

Commentary

The Right Is Starting to Represent Workers Outside of Unions

2/21/2022 Chris Griswold

American Compass policy director Chris Griswold discusses recent pro-labor policy developments on the right-of-center and opportunities for further labor reform.

The Labor Movement Is ‘Woking’ Itself to Death

9/24/2021 Wells King

American Compass research director Wells King explores the failures of the modern American labor movement and what workers really want from unions.

American Labour Unions Should Stop Playing Politics

9/6/2021 Oren Cass

American Compass’s Oren Cass discusses the state of American organized labor and what the working class wants from their unions.

What American Workers Really Want Instead of a Union at Amazon

4/20/2021 Oren Cass

American Compass executive director Oren Cass discusses the failed unionization drive at Amazon’s Bessemer, AL, warehouse and what it says about what kind of support and representation workers actually want.

Worker Power, Loose Borders: Pick One

12/16/2020 Oren Cass

A funny thing happened in the days after we published “What Happened: The Trump Presidency in Review.” The collection’s emphasis on the success of economic policies that pushed the labor market toward full employment attracted substantial interest from proponents of looser fiscal and monetary policy. But that “strange new respect” came with the mandatory caveat that we were still wrong to suggest increased immigration enforcement and a slower inflow of new workers might be part of the same package.

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