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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name



Political Science

First Advisor

Michael Goldfield


“Condescending Saviors” identifies and analyzes multiple factors underlying the ability of Toyota Motor Corporation’s Georgetown, Kentucky plant to stymy unionization of production workers through sophisticated and extensive union substitutionism. Two key factors in this case study of its profoundly pragmatic long-term substitution are the meso-corporatist institutions by which it successfully embedded itself in Kentucky, and, critically, the trajectory of the United Auto Workers from business unionism to narrow enterprise unionism based solely on the interests of the auto companies. A contrast between the Kentucky Building Trades Council’s successful unionization of construction work and the UAW’s organizing failures places the latter in bold relief and argues against the popular reasoning that the UAW was simply the victim of events, the period, or TMMK’s location. It also exposes the insularity that has shielded Toyota’s plants and workers from all objective academic investigation. A final substantive chapter charts the stages of the UAW’s transition to enterprise unionism, decades of erosion of union democracy and concomitant organizing capacity, and thus offers a view of possible alternative developments.

The historical and comparative method contextualizes these events within the larger framework of the shifting relationship between capital, labor, and the state in the second half of the twentieth century US. The similarities between the weak class struggle in the US and the defeat of Japanese working-class struggle overshadow any reliance on cultural differences. Thus, “American exceptionalism” and “Japanese uniqueness” are abandoned as frames that deny an important commonality of forces, and the specific working of meso-corporatism in the US. Investigating this puzzle using the arsenal of political science and, necessarily, the methods of the meticulous historian, yielded a new paradigm to better understand trade union decline. Identifying these factors required an in-depth understanding of Japanese and US union history since the nineteenth century; an extensive review of the history of industrial relations practices at Toyota’s earlier joint venture with General Motors in California; and the decades-long process of centralization of control within the UAW and its refusal to enforce the Constitutionally-required prohibition of competition between UAW-represented plants; all of which are further explored in working papers.

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