Date of Degree

9-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

History

Advisor

Joshua B. Freeman

Committee Members

David Nasaw

Gerald Markowitz

Ruth Milkman

Subject Categories

American Studies | Collective Bargaining | Economic History | Human Geography | Labor Economics | Labor History | Political Economy | Social History | Sociology | Unions | United States History | Urban Studies | Work, Economy and Organizations

Keywords

deindustrialization, manufacturing, New York City, unions, collective bargaining, capitalism

Abstract

At midcentury, New York City was among the preeminent manufacturing centers in the United States. Within a generation, this manufacturing economy suffered an extraordinary collapse. Beginning in the 1950s, workers and their unions began to use the term “runaway” to describe factories that pulled up stakes in New York and set them back down in other climes. This dissertation explores the deindustrialization of New York City through case studies of “runaway” plants, or factories that left New York for the American South or abroad between the years 1945 and 1975.

In general, the manufacturers that remained in New York at midcentury were concentrated in labor-intensive, highly competitive industries where wage suppression was a key—and sometimes the only—means of survival. For this reason, these employers sought the socially vulnerable—those whose subordinate positions, conditioned by race, gender, migration status, and sometimes all three, compelled them to accept the substandard wages and conditions required to maintain profitability in cut-throat competitive environments. When workers sought to reduce their vulnerability through collective action, joining the industrial unions buttressed by the New Deal, their firms responded by fleeing the Northeast in search of a new, low-cost workforce defined by its relative isolation and vulnerability.

The present work explores one runaway plant for each postwar decade. Each factory I investigate represents a different industry, a different union, and a different strategy for addressing the problem of capital mobility. This differentiated approach is designed to account for New York’s unique manufacturing economy, where, unlike in Pittsburgh, Detroit, or other Rust Belt cities, no one industry dominated the scene. Through closely observed accounts of these struggles, we can understand how manufacturers confronted a crisis of profitability by seeking a “spatial fix” rooted in regional difference as well as how industrial relocation helped to induce the collapse of New York’s unique municipal social democracy, which consisted in an attempt to secure a minimally decent and collectively determined standard of living for the city’s workers along with tolerable levels of profitability for their employers.

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