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Scales of Struggle: Economic Restructuring in the U.S. Midwest

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This paper examines economic restructuring in the U.S. Midwest focusing on three locations in west-central Illinois: Quad Cities, Peoria and Canton. We use a modified version of regulation theory, which we extend by incorporating an explicit theory of scale that acknowledges that scale is socially produced and constantly remade, especially during periods of rapid economic change. Historically, west-central Illinois has been the location of pitched battles between corporate actors, such as Deere and Company, International Harvester, and Caterpillar Corporation, and unions such as the Farm Equipment Workers (FEW) and the United Auto Workers (UAW). When the locally vibrant and radical FEW was subdued, a period of relatively peaceful labor relations ensued as the large corporations and the UAW agreed that the national level was the appropriate scale at which labor regulation should occur. By the early 1980s, the economic prosperity of the region was shattered as the large farm-implement firms were forced to restructure in the face of the Farm Crisis and a general climate of intense global competition. Central to the restructuring strategy of John Deere and Caterpillar was the reconfiguration of the scale of labor relations, as the companies were able to break the national system of pattern bargaining and to force unions to engage in concessionary bargaining at the local level. The economic crisis that struck west-central Illinois has been accompanied by mass layoffs, increased poverty, and the loss of union influence in the major industries.
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Keywords: Production of scale; U.S. Midwest; economic restructuring; unions

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Western Illinois University

Publication date: 1998-09-01

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