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The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972

Some Reflections on Labor History

F. RAY MARSHALL*
THIS IS AN OPPORTUNE TIME TO REVIEW THE STUDY OF LABOR HISTORY
in Texas and the Southwest. Unions have become important
institutions in Texas as well as in the nation, and their influence un-
doubtedly will rise steadily as collective bargaining is extended to fed-
eral, state, and local government employees, as labor's political power
continues to increase, and as unions attempt to organize agricultural
and other unorganized workers. As unions grow in power and chal-
lenge employers and other groups for greater participation in formulat-
ing the rules in the workshop as well as in legislative bodies, interest
in their behavioral characteristics undoubtedly will intensify. One
of the best ways to gain a better understanding of how labor organiza-
tions actually operate is to look at their antecedents and to study their
behavioral characteristics under a variety of historical circumstances.
From the standpoint of increasing our knowledge, it is fortunate
that historians are giving increasing attention to labor history, because
interest in this subject by labor economists has been crowded out by
a preoccupation with wage and employment problems; international
labor movements; collective bargaining; wage-price problems; and
manpower, race, and poverty problems. Of course, much of the writing
by labor economists has been historical in character, but the emerg-
ing generation of labor and general economists exhibits very little
interest in labor or any other kind of history. In part, this attitude
derives from the economists' growing interest in mathematics and
theory. Economists are, therefore, devoting their attention increasingly
to subjects which appear to be most amenable to study by mathe-
matical models.
For reasons which are not at all clear to this writer, general his-
torians, particularly those interested in the South, have paid surpris-
ingly little attention to labor market institutions. Apparently, histor-
ians have until recently considered labor history either unimportant,
in the mistaken belief that unions have only recently arrived on the
southern scene, or unworthy of serious scholarly inquiry. As Walter
Galenson observed, "In thus abandoning the field to economists, the
*Mr. Marshall, author of numerous studies on labor, is the chairman of the Department
of Economics, University of Texas, Austin.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101201/. Accessed September 30, 2014.