Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Ira Shor

Subject Categories

American Politics


AFL-CIO, American labor history, Theory of Power, Tamiment Library


In 1955 the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations healed their twenty-year schism. Provisions of the NIRA and the Wagner Act had given promising opportunities for union organization in the early 1930’s. Unions in coal and steel saw possibilities in organizing vertically entire industries, rather than according to traditional crafts. In 1935 some unions left the AFL to form more aggressive organizations under the banner of the newly formed CIO. The public perception of aggressive strikes led to anti-labor laws, most noticeably the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. The increasingly hostile political climate, as states enacted the “right to work” laws permitted by Section 14(b) of Taft-Hartley, created the conditions for reuniting labor.

This thesis examines the decade following that reunion. Using theories of Foucault, Bourdieu, and Habermas, it looks at the historical background of labor’s perception of itself in the century leading up to the topic period, but focuses primarily on the AFL-CIO’s documents of the decade 1955-1965, how those documents defined the role of unions in a democracy, the battle of discourse in claiming the mantle of “individual freedom”, and the compromises involved in the process of “collective bargaining.”