The Unions and the Red Scare. Can McCarthyism be held Responsible for the Dwindle of the US-American Labor Movement?

Hausarbeit, 2013

14 Seiten, Note: 2,7


Table Of Content

1. Introduction

2. The US-Labor Unions and Communism
2.1 The Significance of Labor Unions
2.2 Communist Unions

3. McCarthy's Motivation

4. The Transition of the Unions
4.1 The State of the Unions Before McCarthyism
4.2 The State of the Unions During the Red Scare
4.3 The State of the Unions in the Following Years

5. Conclusion


Works Cited

List of Figures

1. Introduction

The second Red Scare, or the Great Red Scare, which had been mostly introduced and carried out by Senator Joe McCarthy, took place between 1947 and 1957. With the aid of radical measurements such as interrogations, witch hunts and accusations of not only organisations and individuals with high responsibility jobs but also ordinary working people, the US government aimed to seek out the inner enemy of the nation: the Communists. It spreaded out into every corner of the United States, be it the film industry, the government, academics and also into work-related institutions like labor unions, on which this paper is going to concentrate exclusively.

As to that, this paper is going to analyse in how far this temporary outbreak of hatred against Communists contributed to the ongoing decline of the labor movement which is nowadays said to be weak in strike power and proper visions. The topic is, forasmuch, special in considering its contemporary relevance. The dwindling state of the labor movement in the USA is still in debates today because of the constant decline of union membership. Furthermore, the fact of the downward direction of labor activity is alarming and calls for a clarification of reasons since the unions still have a crucial role to play in America (Klein, 2011). The working men's riots against bad working conditions, bad loans et cetera by work stoppage are no more a matter of course in the USA today. According to Klein, fewer than 7 per cent of the private workers are unionized, shrinked from a number of 25 per cent in the 1970s (Klein, 2011.).

Before making an attempt to figure this out, it is necessary to explain why the unions are such an important factor in a nation's economic and political policy and what are reasons for the fact that they are commonly linked with Communist ideologogy. Based on these facts, chapter 3 is going to draw a line towards Senator Joe McCarthy, who triggered the second Red Scare, and very concisely to the general US-American attitude towards persons or groups with a Communist mindset. The main part of this paper is solely dedicated to the situation of the unions after the first and before the second Red Scare and how they were situated in the years and decades to follow. Further and by narrowing the paper's content towards the central question it is going to point out why the US labor movement was back then linked with sowjet espionage and what were the factors that discouraged people from joining in union activities.

2. The US-Labor Unions and Communism

2.1 The Significance of Labor Unions

The main purpose of labor unions is to stand in for the rights of the workforce. There are several unions in the United States for different kinds of professions, for example teachers are registered in the NEA, the National Education Association or people who work in the steel industry are members of the USWA, the United Steelworkers of America. Every union is itself a member of an umbrella organisation which is the American Federation of Labour, the AFL, which merged together in 1955 with the Congress of Industrial Organization, the CIO, and is therefore now called AFL-CIO.

As mentioned above, Unions are functioning as the voice of the workforce when it comes to bargain the improvements of their working and, thus, living conditions. It is generally approved that one worker or a group of workers is not capable of bargaining their own demands individually. Therefore, labor unions function as means of collective bargaining to increase the bargain power of workers, to achieve the reduction of unfair wage payments and to function as mediating institutions between one individual worker or a group of workers and the management.

2.2 Communist Unions

This chapter intends to give information about whether labor unions in general, but especially the US-American labor unions, are being taken for strictly left-winged or whether this is an untenable assertion.

Labor Unions had emerged over the course of the Western industrialisation. Whereas during the first World War there had been a relatively moderate and patriotic mood in the workforce, there was after the war a sharp increase in membership-figures which can be lead back to the bolshevik revolution in Russia at which US-American workers were looking at (Brecher, 1957, p. 98). It is commonly acknowledged that the Sovjet government is a government for the people and the people are mainly proletarian. Since the unions are universally understood as fighting for the rights of the workforce (see chapter 2.1) and not for the interests of the economy they are just as well understood as

on the side of the workforce, which logically explains that they have a strong tendency to be acknowledged as left-wing oriented. However, for the fact that unions are not a political institution and are not mainly dependent from political parties their left conduct ought not to be put on a level with any left party.

Communism, as it had been instrumentalised from the philosophy of Karl Marx, to justify an uproar from the people against the mistreating and exploiting minority of the owners of the capital and which results in the people overthrow the entire state system and force it to turn from capitalism to communism, was just out of this interpretation a reason for the workforce to stand up together against unfair working conditions. The guiding of strike actions on behalf of the dissatisfied workers took place under the control of the labor unions. This is also a reason why Communism stands in relation to labor organizations.

Furthermore, unions as the enlenghtened arm of the working man's rage, are commonly seen in public as a threat to a nations peace and stability, forasmuch the bargain does not take place at some round table but rather when workers cause uproar and war-like terror out on the streets in order to enforce their interest. This is also known as anarcho- syndicalism which can be explained as a more radical form of strike power and direct action with the actual aim to overthrow the state system. For example, the union IWW, Industrial Workers of the World, aimed at a more revolutionary strike action (Voß, 1980, p. 43).

By the beginning of the 1920s the AFL appeared strictly anti-Communistic, conservative and obeyed the capitalistic market economy (see chapter 4.1). However, according to Murray (1955, p. 107), it was astonishing that "at a time when anti-union elements were already meeting with some success in identifying unionism with bolshevism, organized labor cooperated with them in digging its own grave", when the AFL supported the patriotic propaganda of the National Civic Foundation. It can be said that, inspite of such facts, union members are not each of the same attitude. There are as much radical groups of members with a suggested higher tendency to left attitudes as groups with a conservative, capitalistic-affirmative attitude.


Ende der Leseprobe aus 14 Seiten


The Unions and the Red Scare. Can McCarthyism be held Responsible for the Dwindle of the US-American Labor Movement?
Technische Universität Chemnitz  (Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
American Society, Culture and Politics
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
609 KB
American Studies, Labor Movement, McCarthy, Länderstudien, American Politics, Red Scare
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Diana Kiesinger (Autor:in), 2013, The Unions and the Red Scare. Can McCarthyism be held Responsible for the Dwindle of the US-American Labor Movement?, München, GRIN Verlag,


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