This part of Capital & Main’s examination of union busting reviews the targeting of academics who study labor by corporate critics. It was written by Jo Constantz.
Many scholars who study the history and economics of organized labor are sympathetic to the union cause. These academics often encounter threats, harassment, and defunding of their research.
Throttled by both strong-arm tactics from anti-union interests and a chronic lack of support from universities, the field of labor studies has dwindled in the U.S. in recent years.
Researchers in the field have been the target of legal threats and lawsuits, onerous public records requests and misinformation campaigns from union avoidance consultants, business executives, corporate lawyers and conservative think tanks. It’s one aspect of the business lobby’s relentless war against unions in recent decades, which has seen companies spend more than $340 million a year on consultants to defeat organizing efforts by their employees and helped sink union membership.
Labor studies, an interdisciplinary field in academia that examines workplace issues and worker organizations, reveals working conditions that motivate people to want to join a union. Much of the scholarship has illuminated the central role that labor’s decline has played in exacerbating income inequality. In doing so, the field has aroused the ire of anti-union companies and their allies. The field has never been a major force in academia and many centers have been gradually shuttered due to lack of funding or merged with other departments. Only a handful of universities currently offer a major or minor in labor studies. Faculty are often untenured, vulnerable to layoffs and budget cuts, and they are often not replaced when they retire.
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