Resilience in the Rust Belt: Michigan Democrats and the UAW (WP-13-04)
Daniel GalvinScholarly theories predict that strong ties between political parties and industrial labor unions will inhibit party adaptation and lead to its electoral decline in the context of globalization and deindustrialization. Testing these expectations in the case of the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP), which has long been dominated by the United Auto Workers (UAW), this study finds some peculiar results: UAW leaders regularly supported Democratic adaptation, thereby contributing to the party’s relative electoral resilience. Contrary to the notion that labor leaders will always press their interests in a naïve or sincere manner within party councils, these union officials acted with political sophistication and strategic thinking. Several factors were at play, but there is reason to believe that deep and durable party-union linkages encouraged union leaders to engage in this surprising behavior, an argument that echoes and builds upon Greenstone’s (1969) findings from over forty years ago. This working paper suggests that under certain conditions—specifically, at very high levels of party-union integration—the presumed negative relationship between party-union linkages and the party’s adaptive capacities may actually be reversed.
Daniel Galvin, Assistant Professor of Political Science, and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University