Well, I'd disagree somewhat with your characterization of both parties, though there's some accuracy in it. But as to your question--that's something that historians of labor continue to debate. Here's a summary of some of what they have found.
The United States never developed the kind of clearly differentiated classes that were the norm in Europe. In the early US (1800s) there was a high degre of social mobility (not as much as now, but way more than anyone had ever seen before). In addition, the working class was not excluded from voting and participating in pubic affairs. The result, according to some historians, is that the social barriers that forced workers in Europe and Britain to develop a sense of class consciousness didn't operate as strongly in the United States.
Another factor, some historians believe, is racism. This played out in two ways. First, because of mistrust between black and white workers, they never really joined forces even though from a political and economic perspective, their common interests against unscrupulous employers made this the logical course. Second, employers were able to use the racial divide to continually play one group off against the other (enlisting white workers to support excluding blacks from some jobs, and using black workers as strike-breakers. And so on).
My personal view is that a third factor was ultimately more important, although the first two are unquestionably part of the reasons why a Labor Party never really took root in the US. Beginning in the late 19th century, and since, employers learned to work with labor leaders to a degree. In effect, workers did get some real gains (better wages, working conditions, and so on). In return, they pressed for--and got--a more co-operative labor force.
Granted, the above is a very short summary--but it gives you the idea. Today, we have a somewhat different situation. Beginning in the late 1940s, the legal support for workers was gutted by the Taft-Hartly Act. At that time, 1 in three of all American workers were union members, and although there was no "Labor Party" as such, labor had real political influence, especially with the Democrats. We seemed to finally be on our way to a real balance of power between capital and labor., but Taft-Hartly, rammed through by the conservative GOP based on smear tactics and lies that "unions were communist" cut short the gains labor had made.
Today,organized labor has minimal influence. Part of the reason is that today's reason is that today's unions are what Michael Burawoy ("Manufacturing Consent") calls the "internal state." Briefly, unions have been co-opted into "the system." They do provide some benefits and protection for workers, but defuse activism by providing formalized grievance procedures. Workers end up "consenting" to the system by relying on it. This also has the effect of taking the poitical element out of labor issues.
A final point. Up until the 1960s, labor supported the Democrats. However , during the civil rights era, the GOP was able to use racist propaganda and worker fears ( as blacks entered the shop floor in greater numbrs) to split large numbers of whites away from the Democrats--and from labor unions, who supported civil rights. And that is where things stand today. Unions support the Democrats, but are so emasculated they really aren't a factor. Workers (white) predominate in the religious right that is the "base" of the Republican Party. They continue to adopt racist attitudes out of fears passed along from one generation to the next. And so remain easy for their employers to manipulate.
The GOP caters to the rich--not the working class. They don't need to, because they have successfully used racism (and today, fears of Hispanic immigrants) to manipulate and control white workers.
The Democrats admittedly don't pay as much attention to labor as they should. But the reason is simple--it's a dtwo-way street. The Democrats focus on minorities and the middle-class because that's where they can get support. Uniions support Democrats, yes. But the rank-and-file blue-collar white workers continue to cling to racism and persist on voting for rich Republicans.
· 1 decade ago