Labor Studies Workshare Series: Labor Unions and White Racial Politics

Jake Grumbach, Assistant Professor, UW Political Science
Friday, October 18, 2019 - 12:30pm to 2:00pm
Smith Hall, Room 306

Scholars and political observers point to declining labor unions on the one hand, and rising white identity politics, on the other, as profound changes in American politics. However, there has been little attention to the potential feedback between these forces. In this article, we investigate the role of union membership in shaping white racial attitudes. We draw upon research in history and American political development to generate a theory of interracial labor politics, in which union membership reduces racial resentment.

Cross-sectional analyses consistently show that white union members have lower racial resentment and greater support for policies that benefit African Americans. More importantly, our panel analysis suggests that gaining union membership between 2012 and 2016 reduced racial resentment among white workers. The findings highlight the important role of labor unions in mass politics, and, more broadly, the importance of organizational membership for political attitudes and behavior.