In comparative perspective, U.S. employers have been unusually hostile to unions. Their labor policies varied from one time and industry to another, however, in defiance of familiar interpretations of American “exceptionalism”. It is argued that before World War I, open shops and trade agreements represented different solutions for common labor problems. The timing of changes in technology and industrial structure relative to union growth determined which strategy would be more attractive to employers. This argument is developed by comparing one open shop industry (the machine trades) with its British counterpart and, more briefly, with some U.S. industries where trade agreements prevailed.
* An earlier version of this article was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, August 17, 1987. The paper has benefited from the comments of Katherine Mooney.