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Canadian Review of American Srudies/ Revue amad,enne d'etudes amerrcames Volume 26, Number 1, Winter 1996, pp. 123-135 Unionism in the Twentieth-Century United States: A Re-examination John Braeman 123 Sidney Fine. "Without Blare ol Trumpets:" Walter Drew, the Nationtll Erectors ' Association, and the Open Shop Movement, 1903-S7. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. Pp. x +384. Robert H. Zieger. The CIO 193S-19S5. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Pressi 1995. Pp. xii + 491. Colin Gordon. New Deals: Business, Labor, and Politics in America, 19201935 . Cambridgei England: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Pp. xii + 329. Conflict between workers and their employers over distribution of the fruits of production in democratic nations has taken place in two spheres: the electoral-representative and the labour market. The absence in the United States of a successful political party committed to and dependent for its support on the working class has placed a heavier burden upon unions as the protector of worker interests than in many industrialized countries. Much ink has been spilled to explain the first phenomenon. The preoccupation with answering Werner Sombart's query about why there was no socialism in the United States has tended to divert attention from the weakness of umonism in this country. That weakness was temporarily disguised by the 124 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue amadienne d'etudes americ.aines surge in union membership from the 1930s until the latter 1950s. Umon decline since, however, has sparked new interest in the sources of labour organizational failure. In "Without Blare al Trumpets:" Walter Drew, the National Erectors' Association, and the Open Shop Movement, 1903-57, Sidney Fine tells the story of this country's "most belligerent national antiunion employer association11 (272). Whereas much of the scholarship on labour organization has focused on why workers do or do not join unions, 1 Fine looks at the role of the employer. The experience of the National Erectors' Association (NEA), he underlines, "reveals the centrality of employer opposition, irrespective of worker attitudes, as an explanation for the limited growth of unionism in the United States as compared to the industrialized nations of western Europe" (272). The spokesman for, and guiding force of, the NEA from 1906 on was Walter Drew. A young Grand Rapids, Michigan, lawyer before becoming NEA commissioner, Drew had served his apprenticeship in the labourmanagement wars as attorney for that city's Citizens Alliance in its counterattack against unions. Drew denied that he was antiunion. He professed to favour a truly open shop where the employer would be free to hire union or nonunion members exclusively on the basis of their qualifications. But labour organizations regarded the closed shop-or at a minimum, the union shop-as an institutional imperative, not simply as the solution to the free rider problem but, even more important, as the only way of maintaining control of the productive process. And despite his lip-service to a distinction between good and bad unions, Drew feared all unions as the opening wedge for the closed shop. Fine is a meticulous and exhaustive researcher. The negative side of his book is a tendency toward repetitiveness since Drew did not change significantly his views or methods over time. A major strength is that Fine places his account firmly within the context of the economics of the industry to explain why structural steel erectors were the most successful of the building trades in resisting unionization. One reason was that steel erection was not as skilled a job as some of the other crafts. Another was the NEA's singlemindedness in defense of the open shop. But the critical difference was the larger size and resources of NEA firms compared to those in other branches ]o/Jn Braeman I 125 of construction. Its principal members were more fabricators than erectors of structural steel and were subsidiaries of or had close ties with such giants as Bethlehem and United States Steel. Their fear was that the closed shop in steel erection would lead to the unionization of the fabricating shops and even the steel mills, because of the leverage that unionized steel erectors could exercise by refusing to handle nonunion-made products. More...


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