Guaranteeing workers a seat at the table
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.
Statement on a conservative future for the American labor movement.
Featured ContentBrowse all content in the Labor library
The Economics of Labor Supply and the Role of Immigration Policy
Greater Voice, Power, and Support for Workers
Perspectives from the Working Class
A Conservative Future for the American Labor Movement
Maintaining tight labor markets for American workers
Ending temporary worker programs that depress American wages
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.
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.
Straightforward federal reforms could enable state and local governments to partner with new labor organizations in administer portable benefits and sector-wide training.
For more than half a century, productivity, GDP, and profit have risen together. Wages have not followed suit.
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
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.
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.
A more productive conversation about raising workers’ wages
American Compass policy director Chris Griswold explores the relationship between worker power and the roots of civic friendship.
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.
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.
American Compass’s Oren Cass argues that a strong, reformed labor movement has unique potential to advance conservative priorities.
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.
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.
At the second National Conservatism conference, Oren Cass discusses the importance of worker power to the future of conservatism.
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 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.
Labor law has failed to evolve alongside a changing labor market. Some labor leaders have been moving ahead anyway.
In the American Conservative, Oren Cass discusses how the American labor market’s failure to produce family-supporting jobs is fundamental to the nation’s problems.
Today’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the unemployment rate continuing to hold close to its lowest level in 70 years, despite a slight uptick last month. This might seem Read more…
In Democracy at Work, labor law professor Ruth Dukes and sociologist Wolfgang Streeck describe how the dehumanizing and demanding conditions of an Amazon “fulfillment center” maximize the isolation of workers and Read more…
American Compass policy director Chris Griswold discusses recent pro-labor policy developments on the right-of-center and opportunities for further labor reform.
American Compass research director Wells King explores the failures of the modern American labor movement and what workers really want from unions.