Having It Both Ways:the Political Origins and Development of U.S. International Labor Rights Policy

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
CLM.B.06 (Clement House)
Stephen Amberg, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
Labor rights are the historical foundation of what later developed into human rights. The U.S. government stipulates international labor rights standards for countries that want to trade with the U.S., but fails to apply these standards in the U.S. This paper argues, in contrast to trade coalition and government structure analyses, that American labor rights policy has been shaped by political legacies of the Southern regional development strategy based on repressive labor relations.  When the New Deal coalition accommodated southern Democrats on labor and race policies, it also accommodated their preferences for international labor and human rights policy. New Deal labor policy (high standards) was institutionalized largely in the North, but the existence of the low-standards South was part of the structure of U.S. policy. The New Deal constituted an on-going clash over policies about unions, regional development, race, and international economic policy. This paper analyzes three sequences of policy development from the 1940’s to the current day to support an explanation rooted in theories of pragmatist construction of institutional order and change. The paper argues that the institutions that order domestic labor relations and international human rights policy should be understood as intertwined factors that shape U.S. foreign policy.