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As commentator E. J. Dionne has noted, the union movement has traditionally espoused a set of values—solidarity being the most important, the sense that each should look out for the interests of all. From this followed commitments to mutual assistance, to a rough-and-ready sense of equality, to a disdain for elitism, and to a belief that democracy and individual rights did not stop at the plant gate or the office reception room. Dionne notes that these values are “increasingly foreign to American culture”.[2] In most industrial nations the labor movement sponsored its own political parties, with the U.S. as a conspicuous exception. Both major American parties vied for union votes, with the Democrats usually much more successful. Labor unions became a central element of the New Deal Coalition that dominated national politics from the 1930s into the mid-1960s during the Fifth Party System.[3] Liberal Republicans who supported unions in the Northeast lost power after 1964.[4][5]

The history of organized labor has been a specialty of scholars since the 1890s, and has produced a large amount of scholarly literature focused on the structure of organized unions. In the 1960s, as social history gained popularity, a new emphasis emerged on the history of workers, including unorganized workers, and with special regard to gender and race. This is called “the new labor history“. Much scholarship has attempted to bring the social history perspectives into the study of organized labor.