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From Labor Law to Employment Law: The Changing Politics of Workers' Rights (WP-18-14)

Daniel Galvin

Over the past six decades, a new kind of labor politics has emerged in new venues (state and local levels), focusing on new governing institutions (employment laws), involving new organizational forms (alt-labor), and employing new strategies. The timing, form, and content of these developments have been powerfully shaped by the persistence of the increasingly outmoded but still authoritative national labor law, which has constrained and channeled the efforts of workers and their advocates to respond to growing problems. While the new institutions and organizations provide new substantive rights for workers and alternative vehicles for voice and collective action, the layering of these new forms alongside the old—without displacing the latter—has generated new problems without solving the problems produced by the ossification of labor law in the first place. Using novel empirical data and analysis, this paper documents these changes, explores their causes, and considers their consequences for the changing politics of workers’ rights.

Daniel Galvin, Associate Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

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