[OPE] The Attack on Unions in Selig Perlman's Wisconsin

From: michael perelman <michael.perelman3@gmail.com>
Date: Fri Mar 11 2011 - 22:42:57 EST

The Wisconsin attack on unions is sadly ironic, given the progressive
tradition of the state. One of the progressives who whom I have not
seen mentioned was Selig Perlman (1888-1959). He was an important
economist at the University of Wisconsin and teacher of the son of
Robert LaFollette, who was, like his father a governor of the state.
Later, I had the privilege of knowing his son Mark, I wonderful man with
an amazing breadth of economic knowledge and experience. Putting
information together from Mark and my father, our families came from
nearby each other. I always addressed him as Cousin Mark.

In an undergraduate class, we read Perlman's book, A Theory of the Labor
Movement. I remember my teachers' explanation of the book more than the
book itself, which I have not read in the last 50 years. Perlman was a
former Marxist, who saw the unions as a bulwark against communism. I
don't know whether he influenced later scholars' ideas that, by giving
workers a voice, unions dampened their revolutionary spirit. I suspect
that his analysis had some influence on Jay Lovestone's CIA-sponsored
project to encourage (capitalist-friendly) trade unionism around the world.

Obviously, Perlman was not radical, but he still was sympathetic to the
working class. Now that the Soviet Union is gone, unions no longer serve
such a purpose. Instead, they are treated as a parasitic force that eats
into the profit rate. Hopefully, this nonsense will cause a strong
enough reaction to ensure that nothing like this happens again.

Michael Perelman
Economics Department
California State University
Chico, CA
530 898 5321
fax 530 898 5901
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Received on Fri Mar 11 22:43:49 2011

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