Neo-Liberalism Before Its Time: Free Trade and Social Democracy in the Era of the ‘Great Compression’, 1945-1972
22 September 2015 6:15 – 7.30pm
South Lecture Theatre, Old Arts Building, University of Melbourne
Admission is free. Bookings are required. Seating is limited.
A now well-recognized ‘crisis’ overtook organized labor in the 1970s in Western countries that rippled out, if in delayed form, across the entire ‘developed’ world by the 1990s. The decline of the unions as an organized social bloc and vector of political influence is most commonly associated with ‘de-industrialization’ and the liberalization of investment and manufacturing markets. Looking backwards, it seems that, in rather short order, a ‘post-war order’ of extensive labor influence—associated with the heyday of ‘social democracy’ and generous welfare states- was quickly frayed by forces beyond the control of labor. It is now commonplace to speak of a transition in socio-economic policy from Social Democracy to Neo-Liberalism.
Leon Fink offers a re-assessment the idea of opposing post-war eras by emphasizing enduring tensions in ideology and practice already apparent by the end of World War II at the re-creation of the capitalist world economy. Labor movements were slow to address the tensions and contradictions built into the international postwar order in which they occupied a vital place. Correction of the current decline of labor-based social movements should begin with a historically grounded review of the fault lines in our current predicament.
Leon Fink is UIC Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago and edits the journal, Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas. A specialist in labor and immigration history, he is the author or editor of a dozen books, including, most recently, The Long Gilded Age: American Capitalism and the Promise of a New World Order (2015); Workers in Hard Times: A Long View of Economic Crises (2014); and Sweatshops at Sea: Merchant Seamen in the World’s First Globalized Industry, from 1812 to the Present (2011). A Guggenheim Fellow, Fulbright Senior Scholar and past NEH Fellow, Professor Fink is currently developing a new project on global labor relations in the post-WWII years.