The Public Interest

Trade unionism goes public

Everett M. Kassalow

Winter 1969

Strikes of public employees, once a novelty, are no longer unusual. During one three-month period, not so long ago, a casual check showed social workers’ strikes in Chicago, Sacramento, and White Plains; slowdowns of firefighters in Buffalo and of policemen in Detroit; strikes among university maintenance employees at Ohio State, Indiana, and the University of Kansas Medical Center; a three-day “heal-in” by the interns and residents of the Boston City Hospital; “informational” picketing, with a strike threat, by the Philadelphia School Nurses” Association; teachers’ strikes in a dozen communities, ranging from West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, and Gibraltor, Ohio, to South Bend, Indiana, and Baltimore, Maryland. Such strikes and slowdowns among teachers, policemen, firemen, etc. have become daily occurrences. Because there had been a growing feeling that industrial relations were becoming more “mature,” strikes of this sort in sectors hitherto unidentified with unionism have led to confusion. Large-scale unionization of government workers is a relatively new phenomenon in this country, although it has been common in almost all other democratic industrial countries of the world. That large-scale public employee unionism was also inevitable in the United States at some time is clear. But why now? What new forces account for the current upsurge of public unionism?

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