Below are links to some of my published pieces and works in progress. Note that some links may require academic library subscriptions. Please do not cite works in progress without my prior consent.
Labor and the Class Idea in the United States and Canada (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press). I begin my study by framing it within a larger discussion about class and politics in the U.S. Despite increasing income inequality and decreasing class mobility, talking about class and class divisions remains politically off-limits in the U.S. For many, the weakness of class-based political appeals in the U.S. is an enduring feature of “American Exceptionalism,” programmed into the cultural DNA of the country. Against such ideas, Labor and the Class Idea is an attempt at recovering and retelling an alternate narrative, wherein American “Exceptionalism” was made, not born. And in many crucial respects, it was made relatively recently, around the middle of the last century. To advance my argument, I present the Canadian case as a useful analytic comparison, and sketch out the broad contours of my “political incorporation” argument. Then, after briefly addressing certain theoretical problems related to analyzing a broad concept like “class,” I focus the inquiry around explaining the specific phenomenon of U.S.-Canada union density divergence. I explain what union density is and why it matters for understanding contemporary patterns of power and inequality. I then articulate the main competing explanations for union density divergence, discuss my data sources, and conclude by outlining the structure of the remainder of the book.
Roosevelt campaign poster, 1936
Why Is There No Labor Party in the United States? Political Articulation and the Canadian Comparison, 1932-1948 (American Sociological Review 81(3):488–516 (June 2016)). Why is there no labor party in the United States? This question has had deep implications for U.S. politics and social policy. Existing explanations use “reflection” models of parties, whereby parties reflect preexisting cleavages or institutional arrangements. But a comparison with Canada, whose political terrain was supposedly more favorable to labor parties, challenges reflection models. Newly compiled electoral data show that underlying social structures and institutions did not affect labor party support as expected: support was similar in both countries prior to the 1930s, then diverged. To explain this, I propose a modified “articulation” model of parties, emphasizing parties’ role in assembling and naturalizing political coalitions within structural constraints. In both cases, ruling party responses to labor and agrarian unrest during the Great Depression determined which among a range of possible political alliances actually emerged. In the United States, FDR used the crisis to mobilize new constituencies. Rhetorical appeals to the “forgotten man” and policy reforms absorbed some farmer and labor groups into the New Deal coalition and divided and excluded others, undermining labor party support. In Canada, mainstream parties excluded farmer and labor constituencies, leaving room for the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) to organize them into a third-party coalition.
Soviet cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko defected in Ottawa in September 1945, exposing a spy ring in the Canadian government. The "Gouzenko affair" is considered the opening shot of the Cold War
Repression and Rebirth: Red Scares and the New Left in the U.S. and Canada, 1946-1972. This is Chapter 5 of my book. It asks: why were post-World War II Red scares more deep and widespread in the U.S. compared to Canada, and how did this shape the emergence and development of the “New Left” in both countries? While prevailing accounts point to long-standing differences in political cultures, I show that it is actually a process of divergence caused by a pre-war shift in party-class relations in both countries. Prior to World War II, both Lefts retained close links with the organized working class and significant cross-generational leadership. But U.S. labor’s absorption into the New Deal coalition in the 1930s undermined independent class politics. This left a Communist Party already alienated from its working class base by its wartime policies as the major representative of independent class politics. McCarthyism exacerbated this vulnerability, driving a wedge between labor and the left, decimating a generation of left leadership, and leading to the emergence of a 1960s New Left that lacked a working class base and a cross-generational leadership. In Canada, the CCF’s (later the NDP’s) persistence as a class-based political party maintained an infrastructural base for class politics through the difficult early years of the Cold War. It ensured that the link between labor and the left, while strained, was not severed. As the New Left emerged in the early 1960s, it did so in dialogue with the NDP, leading to a more class-inflected New Left.
Class vs. Special Interest: Labor, Power, and Politics in the United States and Canada, 1911-2011 (Politics & Society ). Why are US labor unions so weak? Union decline has had important consequences for politics, inequality, and social policy. Common explanations cite employment shifts, public opinion, labor laws, and differences in working class culture and organization. But comparing the United States with Canada challenges those explanations. After following US unionization rates for decades, Canadian rates diverged in the 1960s, and are now nearly three times higher. This divergence was due to different processes of working class political incorporation. In the United States, labor was incorporated as an interest group into a labor regime governed by a pluralist idea. In Canada, labor was incorporated as a class representative into a labor regime governed by a class idea. This led to a relatively stronger Canadian labor regime that better held employers in check and protected workers’ collective bargaining rights. As a result, union density stabilized in Canada while plummeting in the United States.
Class Formation and Class Identity: Birth, Death, and Possibilities for Renewal. Sociology Compass 8(8):1045–62 (August 2014). While social class served as a powerful organizing identity for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, many doubt its contemporary relevance. This article examines the formation and development of theories of class identity over the past century. From a debate largely among Marxists in the early 20th century about the conditions under which the working class will mobilize to defend its interests – moving from a “class in itself” to a “class for itself” – the question of the relationship between individuals’ class position, social interests, and political mobilization attracted greater attention among social scientists following World War II. However, postwar socioeconomic transformations led some to argue for the “death of class” as a central organizing principle for modern social and political life. While others countered that class identities remained relevant, the sharp decline in class-based organization in the late 20th century led scholars to develop more nuanced understandings of the relationship between individuals’ class position and collective identities. Although current scholarship shows that there is no natural translation of class identities into collective action, the reality of growing socioeconomic inequality, along with the resurgence of social and political mobilizations to contest that growth, suggests that class identities retain the capacity to unite.
Firm entry and wages: Impact of Wal-Mart growth on earnings throughout the retail sector, co-authored with Arindrajit Dube and T. William Lester (currently under review). This paper estimates the effect of Wal-Mart expansion on wages, benefits, and skill-composition of retail workers during the 1990s. We exploit the spatial pattern of Wal-Mart diffusion, radiating outward from the original store in Benton county, Arkansas, to control for potential endogeneity in store openings using both instrumental variable and control function approaches. Estimates from state and county level data suggest that store openings reduced both the average earnings and health benefits of retail workers. At the county level, a new Wal-Mart is found to reduce retail earnings, on average, by .5 to .9 percent. Moreover, we find that changes in skill-composition explain only a small part of compensation reduction, indicating that the decline in retail wages reflect a reduction in labor market rents. Preliminary findings from this research were mentioned in the November 5, 2005 edition of the New York Times.
A downward push: The impact of Wal-Mart stores on retail wages and benefits, co-authored with Arindrajit Dube and T. William Lester (UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education Research Brief, December 2007). Empirical evidence suggests that employees at Wal-Mart earn lower average wages and receive less generous benefits than workers employed by many other large retailers. But controversy has persist- ed on the question of Wal-Mart’s effect on local pay scales. Our research finds that Wal-Mart store openings lead to the replacement of better paying jobs with jobs that pay less. Wal-Mart’s entry also drives wages down for workers in competing industry segments such as grocery stores. Looking at the period between 1992 and 2000, we find that the opening of a single Wal-Mart store in a county lowered average retail wages in that county by between 0.5 and 0.9 percent. In the general merchandise sector, wages fell by 1 percent for each new Wal-Mart. And for grocery store employees, the effect of a single new Wal-Mart was a 1.5 percent reduction in earnings. When Wal-Mart entered a county, the total wage bill declined along with the average wage. Factoring in both the impact on wages and jobs, the total amount of retail earnings in a county fell by 1.5 percent for every new Wal-Mart store. Similar effects appeared at the state level. With an average of 50 Wal-Mart stores per state, the average wages for retail workers were 10 percent lower, and their job-based health coverage rate was 5 percentage points less than they would have been without Wal-Mart’s presence. Nationally, the retail wage bill in 2000 was estimated to be $4.5 billion less in nominal terms due to Wal-Mart’s presence.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., co-authored with Aaron Brenner and Kerry Candaele. This is the first ever comprehensive strategic corporate research report dealing with the retail giant. It was commissioned for and presented at an international conference held in New York City in February 2006 around the theme of "Global Companies—Global Unions—Global Research—Global Campaigns."