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Alfred de Grazia: Discovering National Elites





Labor elements in the elite are a comparatively recent phenomenon. Seventy-five years ago a discussion of influential groups around the world would probably not mention labor or its leaders. Even today in some nations the same holds true. Nevertheless, in an increasing number of states the influentials of labor form part of the total power structure for this new power base is strong enough to push its leaders into the top elite group. In some states, in fact, the power structure has been dominated by labor leaders; in some they have shared power with other elements; in many more, labor influentials remain peripheral to the main power structure, but are actively seeking places in the top elite.

It is impossible to discuss this new element in the elite without giving consideration to the Marxist doctrines which have been so intertwined with its rise to real or peripheral power. In a sense, the labor element in the elite does represent the growing self-awareness of a kind of world "proletariat." At the same time, in many instances the growth of labor movements and of power for their leaders has been contrary to Marxist theory. One need only cite the American labor movement as an outstanding case in point. Essentially devoted to the domestic status quo the movement has come to power within the existing framework and would be destroyed if the present power structure were torn down. A labor movement more in line with the Marxist doctrine is that of England and the British Commonwealth nations, which operates within an existing framework, but is not as devoted to the status quo and (when in power) makes large scale changes. Even though such changes are drastic, the British kind of trade unionism is far from the communist variety (as exemplified in part by the French and Italian communist-dominated unions) which operate in keeping with revolutionary Bolshevik doctrine and which seek to destroy the present power structure in its entirety.

To the degree that the latter kind of unionism produces elite individuals, they are best thought of as pure political elements. The choice may seem somewhat arbitrary, but it is necessary if one is to evaluate this elite correctly, It might be stated in this manner: the communist labor influential is not really a labor leader but a politician or revolutionary; the socialist labor influential is a real mixture of labor and political leader; the American or capitalistic labor influential is typically a labor leader. To a degree, this analysis can be carried over to the organizations which would be directed by influentials of the three types. The communists unions are perhaps best thought of as political or revolutionary groups the socialist unions are mixed groups, while the capitalistic unions are essentially non-political.


XXI-1. Isolation of labor influentials. There are many points of entry for the search for labor influentials but all should take into consideration that they are somewhat isolated from the main power structure in most cases. Being a new element and representing at least a partial challenge to the power of older elements, they remain "on the outside." And even when they are members of the elite power group, they generally continue to be at least partially isolated, or - if they attain control of the power structure - they tend to isolate other elements. This condition is probably more marked in the earlier stages of the coming to power of labor groups than in the latter. Both the American and the British experience suggest that as labor organizations mature within a social structure the degree of isolation is reduced.

XXI-2. Legal status of unions. The isolation of labor influentials and their organizations is often pointed up by actual legislation which may have been passed in an effort to minimize their power or to keep them isolated. In some areas of the world an effective union remains illegal; in others there are many measures available to the elite to restrain and restrict the power of the labor influential. A check of the laws of the area, of the course of action in the courts involving a labor dispute, of the penalities imposed for actions which are taken by labor groups will reveal much about the status of labor influentials and their relationships to the power structure.

XXI-3. Limited sphere of influence. The isolation of labor influentials means that they will be more often individuals with a single role. In terms of the graphic model of the power structure discussed in Section IX, they are members of only one power pyramid and they are often excluded from the informal elite groups which tie other influentials together. This works both to the advantage and to the disadvantage of the operator. It will be easier to locate the isolated labor influential, but he often becomes a less important target.

When there is a duplication of roles, the most common will be that of politician-labor leader, as has already been noted. In postwar Europe, there have been set up a number of labor groups which had religious bases, suggesting that here might be a case of religious-labor role duplication. The Christian-Democratic parties of Western Europe aim at a junction of two special elite elements, one of which - the religious - lacks secular momentum in modern times, the other religious - lacks secular momentum in modern times, the other of which - labor - tends to be socially isolated and there revolutionary. There may also occur a farmer-labor role duplication. In the main, however, the labor leader will be rather restricted in his influence in the community to affairs relating to labor matters, unless the community is dominated by labor groups.

XXI-4. Background of labor influentials. One factor enforcing the isolation and limitation of the power of labor influentials is their socio-economic background. Many come from the working class itself. Others may be drawn from the middle classes or from the intelligentsia, but the disparity of background is the one case and the "abandonment" of background in the other, make it more difficult for the labor influentials to be members of a stable top elite. In locating labor influentials however, the operator cannot safely assume that they will have a single background pattern. The various labor movements of the world have taken leadership where they could find it. Some labor leaders are best thought of as "accidental" influentials holding their positions by mere circumstances. The rapid change and the relative youth of labor movements also has produced a mixed background. In the U.S. it has been shown that AFL leaders are more likely to be of a working class background, of lower education and of direct experience in the working group they represent than CIO leaders. At best, this is a very broad indicator which may give some useful hints, but which cannot be relied upon in locating the elite of a particular movement, union or local.

XXI-5. Hierarchical nature of labor organizations. Except in their very earliest years, most labor unions show marked hierarchical tendencies. The union organization may begin as an association of voluntary members sharing duties informally, but since it must operate much like a military organization (or like a religious group) powers are delegated and once delegated are consolidated. The organization of the union from the shop unit (or department unit within a large plant) to the local, to the national, or international, creates a pattern of officialdom which tends to become fixed and old in office.

All of this organization tends to help the operator in locating the influentials. By concentrating upon getting lists of formal office-holders he may often find that he has all of the influentials of the union. The usual alertness for informal power wielders should be maintained, of course, for there are informal groups and invisible power wielders within unions as in all other institutions.

Sometimes, power tends to be consolidated in the hands of the secretariat of the organization, with the elective officer structure being reduced to a ceremonial group. When a secretariat has been in office for a long period, it may exhibit all of the tendencies which were discussed above in Section XVII. However, the liaison between officers and bureaucracy of a labor union is usually good, and considerable cohesion can be expected, since neither can go very far outside. Often there is no need to think of them as separate entities at all.

XXI-6. Industrial base of labor movement. The significance of a labor movement and the power of its leadership are usually affected by the kind of industrial base upon which it operates. In areas which are not industrialized, working class groups are not large and the possibility of a labor movement of size or power is lacking. In determining the situation in a given target area, the operator can gain clues by checking the percentages of persons engaged in industrial work as against agricultural work. The presence or absence, and indicators of size such as production or employment, of basic industries like steel, coal and railroads, together with the presence or absence, and size of labor organizations in such fields, will evidence the power of labor influentials.

XXI-7. Craft unionism versus industrial unionism. If labor organizations, whatever their industrial base, are mainly craft union (i.e. workers are associated with others doing the same kind of work no matter in which industry they are employed) they will generally have less total power and tend to local power; their leaders will be farther from the top elite. If, on the other hand, the union organization is accomplished on an industrial basis (i.e. all workers of an industry are associated despite differences in skills or jobs) the movement will be potentially more powerful and so will the leaders.

The first indication of the craft or industrial base of labor organization in an area is provided by the names of labor organizations themselves. If they are mainly in terms descriptive of skills, the movement will be of the craft type; if in terms of broad areas, it will be of the industrial type. In some cases, industrial unionism has been grafted upon a historical base of craft unionism, which will preserve the old names even though the newer system is being used. The nature of the collective bargaining will usually reveal the actual status. Here, too, is an aid to the operator: industry-wide bargaining is much more visible than craft or local area bargaining. It will produce tensions which will bring top elite into negotiations and will make the location of labor influentials an easier job.

XXI-8. Fragmentation of labor movements. It has been noted that labor leaders are frequently isolated from other influentials. In addition, they are often isolated from each other. Differences in approach to union organization political differences, the tendency to build large scale organizations on a basis of federation, all help to build many small pyramids of power rather than a single large one. The craft-industrial dimension just discussed has divided. American labor leaders into two basic camps for nearly twenty years. And the loose nature of the ties of federation has often meant that a single large union finds it possible to "go it alone," particularly if its leaders disagree with the policies of the remaining labor elite. The split of labor influentials into many different camps can cause the operator much trouble in determining who are influential and to what degree they hold power.

XXI-9. Political schisms. The involvement of the labor movement in political affairs has produced many additional divisions. Outstanding, of course, is the division of labor in many nations into rival groups which are pro-communist and anti communist. The labor movement of France, for example, has been torn for decades by the struggles between communists, socialists, Christian elements and others for control. At present there exists the Confederation Generale du Travail (Communist-dominated) and the Force Ouvriere (anti-Communist).

This political splitting extends to the large international organizations. Some are involved in current power conflict; others have split into rival groups. The creation of the International Federation of Journalists in 1952 was the result of such a conflict in an international group related to a particular skill. The split also exists at the level of general world labor organization, there being a World Federation of Trade Unions (communist-dominated) and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (anti-communist).

The place of a given labor influential in the local power structure can sometimes be discovered by noting whether his union is affiliated with the one or the other group of this type. However, the degree of communist domination of such organizations has varied, and one should not be too categorical about organizations or the influentials associated with them.

XXI-10. Pseudo-union organizations. In many parts of the World, organizations have been formed in the guise of unions. At two opposite extremes are the "trade unions" of Soviet Russia and the "company unions" sponsored by the management of a company for its employees In neither case will the leader of the "union" have power by virtue of his "labor leadership". Rather, he will have power as a member of the political elite in one instance or of the business elite in the other. If the operator were looking for local labor influentials, for example, to get them into contact with a group of visiting American labor leaders, he would accomplish little with either group of his list represented such pseudo-labor organizations. Further, any approach to such influentials on the basis of their "labor" reference group, would almost certainly fail, since their dominant associations are actually with another kind of group.

The influential identified in America as the labor "racketeer" is of a similar stripe. He may also be thought of as more properly a member of another power pyramid, that pertaining to politics, or business, or possibly crime.

XXI-11. Visibility of influentials at time of strike. The prime purpose of a union is to make possible the use of the economic strength of the total group through a strike. When a strike does take place, the influentials of the union are called upon to play a more active role vis a vis the membership. They demonstrate their solidarity with the "rank and file" by such acts as participating in picketing, donation of funds and other deeds which make them more visible to the union membership (and to the operator). If the strike action depends in any degree upon public opinion, the union influentials also may become visible through the issuance of statements, speeches on the radio and other acts.

To a degree, they will also be visible during the period approaching a strike, on the other hand, during a relatively peaceful negotiation, the union influentials (as well as business influentials) may be difficult to observe. Both sides will be seeking to keep knowledge of their strategy and tactics hidden.

XXI-12 Visibility of influentials at conventions. The labor convention offers one of the best opportunities to collect information about labor influentials. The delegates are frequently sub-elite (or local elite); ceremonies, protocol, and the distribution of honors, create chances of identifying the rank of various persons in the power pyramid. If the convention becomes a contest for power within the organization, additional opportunities are presented, since influentials are forced to act to protect their position, or to gain better ones.

XXI-13. Use of direct informants. Nothing has been said in this section on the use of direct informants in gathering information about labor influentials. In many ways, it is more difficult to use direct informants in this area of power than in any other. Labor organizations have had to engage in a severe struggle to obtain the power they do hold; they have had to maintain a kind of "security" at many times in their histories and have been beset by spies and informers. Thus, they are more than ordinarily suspicious of any individual who comes questioning, no matter what his purpose. The suspicions will usually be more marked among influentials who are of a more typical working class background, less marked among the "modern" labor leader or the one with middle class or intelligentsia background. Often, it may be advisable to use an indirect informant, someone not connected with the labor movement. Influentials in the business power pyramid and academicians are sometimes excellent sources of information, though their biases must be considered.

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