Below are links to some of my publications. For a more complete list, see my CV.
Labor and the Class Idea in the United States and Canada (Cambridge University Press, 2018): Why are unions weaker in the United States than in Canada, despite the two countries’ socioeconomic similarities? Many view this crossborder distinction as a by-product of longstanding differences in political cultures and institutions. However, using detailed archival and statistical data, I find that this divergence is relatively recent, the result of different ruling-party responses to working-class upsurge in both countries during the Great Depression and World War II. In Canada, a hostile state response led to labor being incorporated as a class representative. In the United States, a co-optive state response led to labor being incorporated as an interest group. This embedded the“class idea” – the idea of class as a salient, legitimate political category –more deeply in Canadian policies, institutions, and practices than in the United States. I illustrate this through comparative studies of party–class relations, the effects of postwar Red Scares, and labor policy divergence. In each case, different patterns of political incorporation enabled or constrained labor’s legitimacy and organizational capacity in different ways. Canadian labor’s role as a class representative legitimized it and expanded its organizational capacity, while US labor’s role as an interest group delegitimized it and undermined its organizational capacity. As a result, union density remained more stable in Canada, but collapsed in the United States.
U.S. Union Revitalization and the Missing “Militant Minority” (with Micah Uetricht) (Labor Studies Journal 44(1):36-59 (2019)). Debates on U.S. union decline and revival usually focus on policy, technical, or political fixes. Missing are discussions of bringing workers together to act collectively at work. This has historically been the job of a “militant minority,” workplace activists (often leftists) who brought militancy and dynamism to unions, dedication and personal sacrifice in organizing, who linked workplace and community struggles, who were involved in unions’ day-to-day activities, and who connected rank and filers to leadership. This layer is largely missing today, making labor revitalization difficult. In explaining who the “militant minority” was, how it worked, and why it disappeared, we can find clues for rebuilding it.
The Problem of Workplace Democracy (with Micah Uetricht) (New Labor Forum 27(1):70-79 (2018)). A vast majority of Americans live a paradox: they check their deeply held demo- cratic rights at the door every day when they show up for work. That is because the rules and rights associated with democracy only apply to people’s relationship to their government, not their employer. Citizens in a democracy remain subjects in the workplace—the place where most adults spend a large part of their waking hours. This sharp divide may not seem out of the ordinary today, but this was not always the case. Past generations of workers and policy makers drew much closer links between political and economic democracy. In seeking to understand how and why those links frayed, then dissolved, this article helps to explain the paradox of workplace democracy that most workers experience today—and suggests possibilities for resolving that paradox.
Election 2016: Labor, Politics, and the Imperative of Organization (Labor Studies Journal 42(3):226–32 (2017)). The 2016 election results did not upend the conventional wisdom about the importance of political organization. It still matters as much as ever, but the type of political organization matters even more. Having a turnout operation helps, but winning requires more than that. It requires vision, and it requires an organizational ecosystem that can connect identities to issues. For unions, that organization has to start in the workplace. While they have gotten rusty at this kind of thing, unions have at times proven themselves able to articulate these broader visions and create organizational ecosystems within and beyond the workplace. Avoiding a repeat of the 2016 election will require that unions rediscover those abilities.
Why Is There No Labor Party in the United States? Political Articulation and the Canadian Comparison, 1932-1948 (American Sociological Review 81(3):488–516 (June 2016)). Why is there no labor party in the United States? This question has had deep implications for U.S. politics and social policy. Existing explanations use “reflection” models of parties, whereby parties reflect preexisting cleavages or institutional arrangements. But a comparison with Canada, whose political terrain was supposedly more favorable to labor parties, challenges reflection models. Newly compiled electoral data show that underlying social structures and institutions did not affect labor party support as expected: support was similar in both countries prior to the 1930s, then diverged. To explain this, I propose a modified “articulation” model of parties, emphasizing parties’ role in assembling and naturalizing political coalitions within structural constraints. In both cases, ruling party responses to labor and agrarian unrest during the Great Depression determined which among a range of possible political alliances actually emerged. In the United States, FDR used the crisis to mobilize new constituencies. Rhetorical appeals to the “forgotten man” and policy reforms absorbed some farmer and labor groups into the New Deal coalition and divided and excluded others, undermining labor party support. In Canada, mainstream parties excluded farmer and labor constituencies, leaving room for the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) to organize them into a third-party coalition.
- Charles Tilly Best Article Award, American Sociological Association Section on Comparative Historical Sociology, 2017
- Distinguished Scholarly Article Award, American Sociological Association Section on Labor and Labor Movements, 2017.
Class vs. Special Interest: Labor, Power, and Politics in the United States and Canada, 1911-2011 (Politics & Society 43(2): 181-211 (June 2015). Why are US labor unions so weak? Union decline has had important consequences for politics, inequality, and social policy. Common explanations cite employment shifts, public opinion, labor laws, and differences in working class culture and organization. But comparing the United States with Canada challenges those explanations. After following US unionization rates for decades, Canadian rates diverged in the 1960s, and are now nearly three times higher. This divergence was due to different processes of working class political incorporation. In the United States, labor was incorporated as an interest group into a labor regime governed by a pluralist idea. In Canada, labor was incorporated as a class representative into a labor regime governed by a class idea. This led to a relatively stronger Canadian labor regime that better held employers in check and protected workers’ collective bargaining rights. As a result, union density stabilized in Canada while plummeting in the United States.
- Outstanding Article Award, American Sociological Association Section on Marxist Sociology, 2016
- Best Student Paper, American Sociological Association Section on Labor and Labor Movements, 2013 (pre-publication draft version of paper)
Class Formation and Class Identity: Birth, Death, and Possibilities for Renewal (Sociology Compass 8(8): 1045-62 (August 2014)). While social class served as a powerful organizing identity for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, many doubt its contemporary relevance. This article examines the formation and development of theories of class identity over the past century. From a debate largely among Marxists in the early 20th century about the conditions under which the working class will mobilize to defend its interests – moving from a “class in itself” to a “class for itself” – the question of the relationship between individuals’ class position, social interests, and political mobilization attracted greater attention among social scientists following World War II. However, postwar socioeconomic transformations led some to argue for the “death of class” as a central organizing principle for modern social and political life. While others countered that class identities remained relevant, the sharp decline in class-based organization in the late 20th century led scholars to develop more nuanced understandings of the relationship between individuals’ class position and collective identities. Although current scholarship shows that there is no natural translation of class identities into collective action, the reality of growing socioeconomic inequality, along with the resurgence of social and political mobilizations to contest that growth, suggests that class identities retain the capacity to unite.
‘Upon This (Foundering) Rock’: Minneapolis Teamsters and the Transformation of U.S. Business Unionism, 1934-1941 (Labor History, 50(3):249-267 (2009)). This article examines an understudied consequence of the labor upsurge of the 1930s – namely, the way in which the conflict between conservative business unionism and more radical alternatives of the period fundamentally transformed business unionism itself. The author illustrates this through a case study of the struggle within the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) between the business unionist leadership and an insurgent movement spearheaded by the Trotskyist leaders of Minneapolis Local 574/544. In order to defeat the insurgents, the IBT leadership violated their commitment to anti-statist voluntarism, using newly enacted labor policies to mobilize coercive state power in their favor. This episode foreshadowed expanded state intervention in union affairs in the post-war period and marked the ascendancy of a new model of industrial business unionism. The latter blended innovative tactics borrowed from radical challengers with the narrow economism and political conservatism of its craft business unionist forebears.
- Albert Szymanski-T. R. Young Best Student Paper Award, American Sociological Association Section on Marxist Sociology, 2010
- Most Outstanding Student Paper Award, American Sociological Association Section on Labor and Labor Movements, 2006 (pre-publication draft version of paper)