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Capital, Labor, and State

The Battle for American Labor Markets from the Civil War to the New Deal

David Brian Robertson

Capital, Labor, and State is a systematic and thorough examination of American labor policy from the Civil War to the New Deal. David Brian Robertson skillfully demonstrates that although most industrializing nations began to limit employer freedom and regulate labor conditions in the 1900s, the United States continued to allow total employer discretion in decisions concerning hiring, firing, and workplace conditions. Robertson argues that the American constitution made it much more difficult for the American Federation of Labor, government, and business to cooperate for mutual gain as extensively as their counterparts abroad, so that even at the height of New Deal, American labor market policy remained a patchwork of limited protections, uneven laws, and poor enforcement, lacking basic national standards even for child labor. « less more »
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 320Size: 6 x 9 1/4
978-0-8476-9728-1 • Hardback • August 2000 • $124.00 • (£80.00) - Currently out of stock. Copies will arrive soon.
978-0-8476-9729-8 • Paperback • August 2000 • $38.00 • (£24.95)
David Brian Robertson is associate professor of political science at University of Missouri, St. Louis.
Chapter 1 The Battle Between Capital and Labor in America
Chapter 2 American Labor Market Policy, Strategy, and Political Institutions
Chapter 3 Labor and Regulation, 1865-1900
Chapter 4 The AFL Confronts Employers
Chapter 5 Employer's Counterattack
Chapter 6 The AFL's Strategic Retreat and Its Consequences
Chapter 7 Limitations of Labor Market Regulation
Chapter 8 Confining Trade Union Powers
Chapter 9 Marginalizing Labor Market Management
Chapter 10 Circumscribing Work Insurance
Chapter 11 The American Model of Labor Market Policy
Robertson's systematic approach, which brings together the full range of labor market programs, adds an unusual an interesting dimension to the study. The constant comparison with British, European, and even Australasian labor market experiences is extremely enlightening. The emphasis on the influence of America's political institutions in shaping its exceptional labor market regime should remind social historians of the importance of that broad institutional/political context. This significant study offers a clearly written and provocative interpretation of American labor market history, and it deserves a wide audience.
William J. Breen; Journal of American History

David Robertson makes a distinctive and persuasive argument about why American workers enjoy so little power in the workplace. Drawing on extensive archival materials, he shows how employers repeatedly used their access to the state to defeat labor initiatives. Robertson argues that the failed campaign for the union shop marked the turning point in labor's efforts to gain more power vis-a-vis employers. This book is filled with important insights for students of American political development, labor history, and labor market policy.
Margaret Weir, University of California-Berkeley

This is a careful analysis of U.S. labor market policy in the early decades of the twentieth century. Probing a panoply of labor-market regulations—hours laws, employment offices, child labor laws, trade union laws, workers' compensation, and unemployment insurance—Robertson uncovers a common theme: that the United States lagged behind other nations in efforts to protect workers from an unfettered market. The book shows how reform efforts foundered in the face of a fragmented political system and fierce opposition from employers. Despite the reforms enacted during the New Deal, American employers today remain exceptionally free to manage workers as they see fit. Whether delighted or troubled by that fact, readers will find this book a useful guide to the past events that shaped our present.
Sanford M. Jacoby, The Anderson School at UCLA

By far the finest treatment to date of the political origins and limited character of labor market regulation in the United States, this analytical and inclusive policy history asks why American employers, seen in comparative perspective, have enjoyed an uncommon autonomy to manage relations with their employees. Focusing on the period spanning the end of the Civil War to the start of the New Deal, the study deploys its breadth of research, clarity of exposition, and penchant for systematic analyses to illuminate this long-vexing question.
Ira Katznelson, Columbia University

In this strongly conceptualized, powerfully argued, and skillfully crafted study, David Brian Robertson effectively challenges much that has been written about the origins of America's exceptional labor policy. The American divergence, he shows, was a twentieth-century development, attributable less to a peculiar labor movement than to political and legal peculiarities that led to employer dominance in labor markets and thwarted reform challenges to employer prerogatives. His insightful reconstruction of what emerged in the areas of labor regulation, trade union law, labor market management, and worker insurance makes a significant contribution, both to ongoing debates about American labor history and to current debates over whether the American model should be copied internationally.
Ellis W. Hawley, University of Iowa

In this book political scientist David Brian Robertson offers an account of American labor exceptionalism that appeals to the uniqueness of American political and legal institutions. . . . Economic historians interested in labor or political economy will find much to sink their teeth into here. . . . It is a virtue of David Brian Robertson's stimulating historical interpretation that both sides of the debate will find much to learn and ponder.
William A. Sundstrom; H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews Online

This is a brilliant explanation of the emergence of the American industrial relations system. It is necessary reading for those who mistakenly believe that the American industrial relations system will solve the problems of unemployment currently facing a number of European countries and who wish to understand the performance of the American system during the twentieth century.
J Rogers Hollingsworth, Professor of History, Sociology, and the Industrial Relations, The University of Wisconsin

A very concise, insightful examination of the ongoing struggle of unions, employers, and the government to establish the precise boundaries of U.S. labor-management relations in the post-Civil War era. Recommended for upper-division undergraduate through professional collections.

Robertson provides a persuasive multicausal explanation for the patchy and limited charachter of American labor policy that belongs on the bookshelf on anyone interested in workers, employment law, and political development in the United States. Robertson provides a complex and convincing interpretation of American labor policy that anyone working on the subject must consider.
Enterprise & Society

The argument that Robertson advances here for the importance of political institutions as a determining force in the development of American labor markets is provocative and should be of interest to many economic historians. Robertson is an effective advocate of this interpretation, and goes a long way toward documenting the way in which American policymaking institutions shaped this country's labor markets.
Joshua Rosembloom; Journal Of Economic History

Robertson's analysis is insightful, ambitious, and systematic.
Alan Draper; Business History Review

Capital, Labor, and State has many virtues and makes a substantial contribution. It is distinguished by its careful conceptualization of labor market policy, thorough research in both primary and secondary literature, focused and well-developed argument, and effective blending of historical, institutional, and political-economic analysis. To my knowledge no other work analyzes developments before the New Deal so comprehensively and systematically or with such careful and sustained attention to all four actors—unions, employers, academic reformers, and government. Yet, any reservations are themselves overwhelmed by Robertson's remarkably rich and impressive study of an issue that so agitated American politics from the late-nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth. Capital, Labor, and State is a considerable achievement that should be widely read and discussed.
Andrew Battista; American Political Science Review

David Robertson has written a fine interpretation of labor policy in the United States during the seven decades of industrialization.
Industrial and Labor Relations Review

This is one of a small handful of important and synthetic and interpretive works on the history of politics and class relations in the United States published during the last few years, none of them, perhaps not coincindentally, written by a labor historian.Robertson's great strength is the breadth of his conception of the range of public policies that 'The Battle of American Labor Markets' entailed (and entails: it really does bring the reader up to date)Turn to him with confidence for an analytical narrative of long-run policy development in the areas of the state and other social benefits. The research is thorough and not , as sometimes happens when political sociologists do history, exclusively library based: Robertson has gone beyond the familiar texts, to original public documents, and in some cases to archival materials.
Howell John Harris, Univesity of Durham; Labor History, Feb. 2005

I recommend this book as a good resource to understand today's trends in the economy.
Political Studies Review