The Rise of 'Political Action': Labor Unions and the Democratic Party

60 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2012 Last revised: 18 Sep 2012

Date Written: 2012


This paper examines the emergence of the first “Political Action Committee” (P.A.C.) as a crucial development underpinning the labor-Democratic alliance, and prompting a broad shift in interest group politics more generally. Created by the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1943, the P.A.C. was both a major organizational innovation and the bearer of a new strategic vision in which interest group electioneering took center stage. While claiming to be “non-partisan,” the P.A.C. directed its electoral efforts toward the Democratic Party, which it sought to reshape as a more cohesively liberal body, in accordance with labor’s major policy goals. This marked a significant shift in interest group behavior, from an emphasis on bipartisan lobbying as the means of achieving preferred policies after elections, to partisan electioneering or “political action” as a means of ensuring their attainment from the start. In both its organizational and strategic respects, the P.A.C. would serve as an important model for other interest and issue-based groups, forging the electoral basis upon which contemporary “party networks” now rest.

Suggested Citation

Charnock, Emily, The Rise of 'Political Action': Labor Unions and the Democratic Party (2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Emily Charnock (Contact Author)

University of Virginia ( email )

1400 University Ave
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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