Working Papers

The Public Turn

From Labor Process to Labor Movement


The year 1974 marked a rupture in the study of labor. It was the year in which Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital was published, making a break with a moribund industrial sociology. It was a rupture inspired by the resurgence of Marxism, critical of the euphoric sociology of the 1950s. Since 1974, labor studies have undergone a mutation, shifting their focus from the examination of the labor process to an engagement with the labor movement. What explains this in light of the continuing assault on labor and the decline of overall union density? The answer lies with the transformation of the labor movement itself—the demise of the old industrial, business unionism and the growing strength of New Labor with its orientation to the service sector, to immigrant and vulnerable workers, and its invention of novel organizing strategies. In New Labor, sociologists have found a new public.