A Crowded Agenda: Labor Reform and Coalition Politics during the Great Society

Source: Travis M. Johnston, Studies in American Political Development, Volume 29 Issue 1, April 2015
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From the abstract:
For much of the post-WWII era, conservative forces blocked progressive labor policy from reaching a floor vote. With huge Democratic majorities in Congress, the 1960s represented a rare opportunity for unions to substantively alter industrial relations policy. The decade served as an important moment of policy development for numerous groups in the coalition. Organized labor, however, made few gains during this prolific era. Despite labor’s central position within the governing coalition, Democrats repeatedly failed to pass their most important legislative ambition, the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act’s right-to-work clause. In 1965, Democrats nearly achieved this goal when such a bill passed the House, only to be blocked by a filibuster in the Senate. By analyzing the Democrats’ legislative priorities during the Great Society, I show how coalitional politics structured the party’s policy agenda and how this ordering affected legislation in turn. With the infusion of new coalitional demands, party elites strategically placed labor’s controversial issue at the end of a long legislative agenda, effectively eliminating any chance for passage. Rather than locating all blame with the usual suspects, this rarely studied episode suggests that President Johnson and his leaders in Congress played a central role in the bill’s failure. The study provides new insight into the process, and consequences, by which party leaders decide whose issues to prioritize when setting the agenda.