A retrospective look at the crisis of the 1970s which contributed to the rise of the the Conservative movement—as a pivot between two different eras in the history of U.S. capitalism and by extension US labor relations—are not just an exercise in nostalgia. Rather, it is an opportunity to try to extract lessons from these crises, and to apply them to our current situation. The 1970’s were in fact a turning point in public sector labor relations. This turning point has had long ranging effects on how states and municipalities deal with public sector unions.
“It is important to understand the driving force that compelled American conservatives to become practically engaged in the worlds of politics, education, the courts, and the culture— namely, the force of reaction”. (That ‘70’s Crisis, 2013) As the 1950’s ended Conservatives believed they had no choice but to fight against what was happening in their country and in the world and what was happening was largely the result, in one way or another, of the Left. Things were going wrong and needed to be fixed: the advance of Communism, the expansion of the welfare state, overregulation of free-market capitalism, the growing power of labor unions, activism in the courts, sexual permissiveness, crime, and the breakdown of the family, not to mention the deterioration of our schools. “What the Left saw as progress, conservatives saw as decline—and in reaction they searched for practical solutions”. (First Principles 2013)
During the next two decades—the 1960s and ’70s—conservatives became increasingly influential in politics, conservative organizations grew, financial resources were developed, new periodicals were founded, and a vibrant youth movement in colleges and universities became prominent. In 1980 Republicans nominated, and subsequently elected, Ronald Reagan, the most conservative politician ever to have reached national standing in American politics. American conservatism had emerged as an intellectual movement in the 1950s, had become a political movement in the 1960s and 1970s, and then, with President Reagan, a governing movement in the 1980s. Along the way, the conservative movement built a coherent philosophy that still exists today.
To understand how this turning point has come about one needs to first look at the historical background of the times. “The explosive rise of public sector unions in the United States in the 1960’s and early 1970 has resembled in many ways the breakthrough of industrial unionism in the 1930’s. By 1970 about half of the nation’s state level workers had collective bargaining privileges”. (McCartin 2008) “The continuous expansion of the federal establishment, even under Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower, pointed to a key element of the postwar era: the liberal consensus that made big government possible”. (Shulman 2001)
Economically the United States had seen tremendous growth in the post war period...