Labor Relations in Construction


Brief Introduction

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The labor force basically played a major role in the transformation of Europe in the industrial revolution which toppled the czar of Mother Russia in the 18th century. Based on Karl Marx’s (1818-1883) book, Das Kapital, the proletariat (working class) served as the backbone of society during that time.  According to Marx’s theories of communism, the artisans (skilled workers), which represent the proletariat, must lead the restructuring of a socialist state into an economy that serves as a communal (common) property of the sovereign, and the labor force being the collective work force.

Today, the artisans has transformed into various occupations, accompanied by transitory changes in the government and the industry.  The postmodernist society has led to the progressive development of classifying the labor force. Although the labor force is generally characterized based on their skills in work, the categories are attributed as to whether the laborer is a tradesperson (one who has a professional title like engineer) or a skilled worker (one that has earned experienced-skill and craftsmanship like a welder or a carpenter).

The present day artisans are being called as craft labor, in which they are still the labor forces that comprises the work force in the industries. They can be found in factories and building construction sites that have indulged in the divestment from agricultural economy to industrialization. Thus, craft labor does not represent capital equity except from having the skill to work. It is the skill and craftsmanship that is engaged by the craft labor in the workplace.

In this paper, the lingering policy issues and labor activities affecting the past and present workforce will be briefly discussed. The paper will also present how the emerging economies and industries subsequently take into perspective the various labor forces.

The labor force in war and peace

Government intervention and Unionism

The US government has controlled the labor market throughout the World War II from 1939 to 1946.  According to the journal of James Baron, Frank Dobbin, and P. Jennings entitled ‘War and Peace: the Evolution of Modern Personnel Administration in US Industry’, the US government has examined the role of three key constituencies in shaping modern systems of work force control: labor unions, personnel professionals, and the state to emphasize the role of government in private and public employment.

The government ownership in the private sector and government employment has created a “shadow of bureaucracy”, in which the war analysts considered the labor unions could worsen the situation of war. Although the continuing legislation to reinforce the Wagner Act of 1935 has led to labor recession, it has also resulted into massively strengthening of the union.  To calm down the hostile reaction of workers and to minimize the intense unionism, the labor management has experimented new bureaucratic techniques by adopting a so-called scientific Human Resource screening to applicants (Gordon et al. 1982, in Baron 1986). However, the Wagner Act and the government bureaucratic intervention in both the private and public sectors further aggravated the labor unrest.

After the war, the US National War Labor Board was commissioned to negotiate with labor unions to maintain domestic peace and limit work stoppage. However, the new Human Resource system being adopted by employers discovered that the government’s “shadow of bureaucracy” was still in place (Bernstein 1970; in Baron, 1986).

It may be perceived upon review of the journal that during and after the war, unionism could adversely affect the stance of the US government in winning wars in foreign lands. Given this dilemma, the internal problems on labor recession have been collaborated by the government with its domestic employers and with the compromised support through reinforcing the Wagner Act of 1935. The issue of labor unionism and union busting, which was brought about by the Wagner Act, has driven the opportunity of new labor capitalists to adopt their anti-labor scheme through the implementation of the burdensome Human Resource requirements, which not only affect the labor workers but promotes discrimination of gender, race and profession.

In addition, the shadow bureaucracy has intently prevented unionism from progressing considering the fact that the US government was rebuilding its economy after the war. While the US’s economic restructuring resulted in the streamlining the economic resources, it also led to the removal of the excess labor forces due to the heavy costs of World War II.

Emergence of new Labor Forces

A comparative literature analysis

The US government gave up its shadow of bureaucracy upon amending the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 which has enacted the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that classifies the: (1) coverage of employment, (2) labor categories, (3) standards of labor practices, (4) welfare and services, and (3) bargaining agreements.

According to Section 8, Sub-Section F (agreements covering employees in the building and construction industry) of the NLRB, the ‘agreements covering employees in the building and construction industry shall not be an unfair labor practice an employer engaged primarily in the building and construction industry to make an agreement covering employees engaged in the building and construction industry with a labor organization of which building and construction employees are members’. Meaning to say, the category of the labor force in the construction site is temporary and considered contractual based on the tenure of the time frame of rendered work and engagement of accountability by the employer. In addition, according to the NLRB, the employer is guaranteed to avert labor bargaining of the employee under the tenure of construction as this is not covered by the labor agreement that pertains to labor union bargaining. Therefore, labor bargaining is not covered within a building construction employment. However, the welfare and right to health benefits and minimum wage earning shall be accorded to under the category of skill or scope of work in the building construction employment.

Based on Barry LePatner’s journal, ‘Broken Buildings, Busted Budgets: How to Fix America’s Trillion-Dollar Construction Industry’, the American construction industry is an archaic enterprise with inert output and high and erratic costs that unnecessarily raise the costs of the needed infrastructure improvements to the US economy. Moreover, based on the journal, the industry is unlikely to reform or modernize until there is a significant change in the way construction industry contracts with customers.

LePatner’s analysis on construction industry as an archaic enterprise may be interpreted as the absorption of residual labor forces in the labor market. LePatner’s journal also states that the monopolies in the construction business encourage craft labor instead of other industries that engages in economic activities, which the overall craft labor should focus on. Another consideration on the effect of the “archaic enterprise” is the polarity or divergence of the labor force from labor bargaining, which, based on rules of the NLRB, is not covered or supported. In short, unionism is opposed and totally diverges from collective labor bargaining.

Moreover, Grace Palladino’s book review, ‘Skilled Hands, Strong Spirits’, explains the rigid variance, which is basically the dispute over centralized authority  as opposed to local autonomy, inter-union rivalries, and jurisdictional squabbles, that has divided the labor movement instead of uniting it.

Basically, based on Palladino’s assessment of the emerging new labor forces that now rely in the over industrialization and urbanization, the commercialized zoning of industries, such as factories and other economic based-industries deal with the architectural designing of economic expansion. In short, the vertical physical expansion goes horizontally and is accompanied by the expansive and cumulative occupation of land areas in urban zoning. The effect of which is the sizeable occupation of air space that led to the evolution of the engagement of craft labor to building construction.

Furthermore, Palladino’s analysis of the divergent labor movement comparatively explains LePatner’s archaic enterprise that absorbs the residue of labor force. It may be recalled from Baron’s’s work that a “shadow bureaucracy” exists upon cooptation of the capitalists (through legislated labor policy) mainly to oppose or end unionism. Correlating with the emergence of the craft labor in building construction, unionism could have been busted or otherwise grown into new emerging perspectives of economic setting and industrial dimension.


Due to the constant improvement of technology, the artisans can no longer be found in the blacksmith shops and railways or in textile and lumber factories. Instead, a new artisan focuses more on the bare hands and its experiences to contribute to the transformation of economies. On the other hand, the proletariat is still a working class under a divergent belief of being commune or liberal, as the labor movement assimilates in the dimensional quantity of needs in the industry.

The present and continuing outlining of strategies of the US Department of Labor’s prepared and competitive workforce, safe and secure workplaces, and strengthened economic protections (US-DOL, 2006) may support the ideals of the labor force being the backbone of society and economy. Consequently, the world may then look beyond the looming craft labor that emerges in the performance of the State to industrialization and urbanization. In this regard, it is simply a matter of how the state emancipates the labor forces in today’s competing global economies.

It is then safe to conclude that the emerging craft labor can be separated from the shadow bureaucracy of the war and post-war scenario, wherein genuine peace must be attained from the workplace through just compensation that is based on the fruits of arduous labor. Ultimately, society shall have a backbone of sustainable and lasting economy for all.










Works Cited

Engels, Friedrich. “Capital”. Vol.3. International Publishers Co, Inc. (1967). ISBN


Baron, James N., Dobbin, Frank R. and Jennings, P. Devereaux. “War and Peace: The Evolution of

Modern Personnel Administration in US Industry”. American Journal of Sociology, Volume

92, Issue 2 (Sep., 1986), 350-383, JSTOR Publishing. Retrieved 10 March 2008 from

LePatner, Barry B. “Broken Buildings, Busted Budgets: How to Fix America’s Trillion-Dollar

Construction Industry”. Book Review (2007). EH.NET Publishing, Richard Vedder, Department of Economics, Ohio University. Retrieved 10 March 2008 from

Palladino, Grace. “Skilled Hands, Strong Spirits”. Book Review (2007). Robert H. Zieger, Labor

History. Retrieved 10 March 2008 from

US Department of Labor. “Strategic: Fiscal Years 2006-2011”. Retrieved 10 March 2008 from

US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). “National Labor Relations Act”. Retrieved 10 March

2008 from