The role of US unions in the civic integration of immigrant workers

Poster: Manifestation Pour L'Egalité
October 01, 2014
Dan Cornfield

Department of Sociology
Vanderbilt University

Written as a research contribution for the book Mobilizing against Inequality: Unions, Immigrant Workers, and the Crisis of Capitalism, Lee Adler, Maite Tapia and Lowell Turner (eds.), Ithaca: ILR Press, 2014

Four streams of scholarly research have addressed the union role in integrating workers and their families in society.  The first stream on the “union as a mutual aid society” hails from the early-twentieth century coincidence of immigration to the U.S., urbanization, and the advent of mass production manufacturing.  The emblematic work in this stream is Frank Tannenbaum’s The Labor Movement: Its Conservative Functions and Social Consequences.   Written in 1921 at the height of the immigration wave from Eastern, Central and Southern Europe, this functional and largely descriptive work depicted the labor union as an immigrant worker mutual-aid society that provided workers with a range of social welfare and cultural benefits and thereby integrated workers into an otherwise atomized, rapidly emerging, impersonal urban-industrial social order (for reviews of this literature, see Cornfield 1990 and Fine 2006).