Theme Panel: New Theories and Evidence on Labor Politics

New Theories and Evidence on Labor Politics

Thu, September 3, 8:00 to 9:45am, Nikko, Ballroom I
Session Description

Labor politics and policy have come back to the public agenda with full force in recent years. The fierce debate around public sector collective bargaining laws in the United States has made it clear that the question of what role labor unions should occupy in politics, and what role they actually occupy, is as relevant today as it was half a century ago. However, the theories andNew-Theories-and-Evidence evidence informing today’s political debates are outdated. Most theories come from the 1960s and 1970s, and consequently do not account for social, political and economic changes that have influenced the role of labor unions. Equally important, most of the empirical studies that provide the evidence base for these theories would not pass the discipline’s current standards for causal inference. Indeed, a recent literature in economics seeks to re-examine labor theories with new data and better methods, but the focus of these studies is on unions as economic, not political, actors.

This panel seeks to reinvigorate the study of labor politics by bringing in new theoretical insights as well as better data and methods. In line with this year’s theme, the panel’s studies directly address the frequently-overlooked heterogeneity in union membership, preferences, and strategies, as well as diversity across labor parties. The panel brings together scholars studying labor politics from various sub-field perspectives (e.g., American Politics and Comparative Politics) and employing diverse methodological tools (e.g., regression discontinuity design, quantitative historical analysis, comparative case studies). Moreover, the studies directly explore the role of diversity in labor politics including the role of racial, social, and economic diversity in the emergence of public employees’ labor rights (Paglayan), the implications of such diversity for union political strength (Zlotnick), and the diverse policy preferences across labor unions (Meeks) and between unionized and informal workers (Feierherd).