Unions, Protectionism, and U.S. Competitiveness

16 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2013

See all articles by Daniel T. Griswold

Daniel T. Griswold

Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Date Written: January 25, 2010


Organized labor has been politically vocal in the United States ever since the movement emerged in the late 1800s. A striking development since the 1970s, however, is its hardening opposition to trade liberalization. Labor leaders have opposed virtually all legislative initiatives since the 1980s to reduce barriers to trade, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, presidential Trade Promotion Authority, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and pending trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.

In the past 30 years, labor unions have pushed for higher trade barriers in the form of “domestic content” requirements for autos sold in the United States, import quotas for textiles and steel, and the Gephardt amendments of 1986-87 that would have imposed sanctions on imports from nations that ran large bilateral trade surpluses with the United States (Destler and Balint 1999: 19). More recently, unions have lobbied for higher tariffs, quotas, or outright bans on imported steel, tires made in China, and Mexican-driven trucks on U.S. highways. Labor leaders lobbied hard for the “Buy American” provisions in the $800 billion stimulus package that Congress approved and President Obama signed in early 2009.

Keywords: labor union preferences for trade policy, export import policy, union membership, trade protectionism

JEL Classification: J50, J51, J58, F10, F16

Suggested Citation

Griswold, Daniel T., Unions, Protectionism, and U.S. Competitiveness (January 25, 2010). Cato Journal, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2010, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2256520

Daniel T. Griswold (Contact Author)

Mercatus Center at George Mason University ( email )

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United States

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