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March 2011


Between the late 1940s and mid-1960s, American organized labor emerged among the most enthusiastic supporters of the military-industrial complex. This study examines that emerging relationship, focusing on the efforts of a group of unionists to mold defense spending into a vehicle for promoting employment and addressing social and economic problems. During the Korean War, labor representatives drafted, lobbied for, and helped administration Defense Manpower Policy #4, a policy channeling defense spending to areas suffering high rates of unemployment. With the advent of the Eisenhower administration, preferential policies fell by the wayside, but organized labor continued to press, with some success for defense spending as a general antidote to economic downturns. Late in the 1950s, the Construction Trades Department of Congress of Industrial Organizations and the American Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), reacting to double-digit unemployment in their ranks, became an active promoter of fallout shelter construction. Despite some initial success in reimplementing preferential policies during the early months of the Kennedy administration, organized labor's defense agenda quickly ran afoul of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara's plans to systematize and rationalize the defense sector. In the end, resistance from military and business leaders greatly impeded labor's progress. At the very least, however, labor's defense agenda reflects a larger social vision and also suggests the very real attraction to many unionists of the military-industrial complex, a malleable economic realm, open to political influence and somewhat removed from the harsh forces of the market.


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