Law and the Evolving Shape of Labor: Narratives of Expansion and Retrenchment


This essay muses on the relationship between law, labor organizing, politics, and the role of academic scholarship on law and work since 1980. As globalization of manufacturing and labor migration have transformed American culture and labor, the boundaries of labor studies have expanded. The more expansive understanding of labor evident in modern scholarship is partly attributable to the decline in union density and the rise of social movements focused on expanding rights of marginalized workers. Yet hyper-capitalism and attacks on labor liberalism have threatened New Deal labor protections and social safety net programs that were core achievements of past labor organizing and foundations for future labor organizing. The rise of income inequality and the decline of middle class jobs, along with right-wing attacks on labor and social welfare legislation, signal a seismic cultural shift that we have only begun to experience and will shape the future of socio-legal studies of labor.


Published online before print August 1, 2012, doi: 10.1177/1743872112451016

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