Abstract: If We are Pushed We Will Have to Leave: Capital Flight as a Corporate Anti-Labor Strategy in Postwar New York State

Tami J. Friedman

Abstract

In the early post–World War II period, U.S. business leaders adopted a range of strategies to reassert their authority vis-à-vis a burgeoning labor movement. Capital migration was a key element of the corporate counterattack. This paper examines the ways in which corporate executives deployed capital flight to challenge labor's growing influence in New York State. After the war, businessmen sharply criticized New York's investment climate, insisting that excessive union demands and "anti-business" legislation were hampering employers' efforts to operate profitably in the state. By invoking the threat of capital migration, they hoped to erode unions' bargaining power and win state policy reforms that would diminish workers' rights. While company officials did not always intend to go elsewhere, the loss of manufacturing in the 1950s was significant enough—and competition from other states intense enough—that their threats to relocate carried considerable weight. As a result of businessmen's efforts, workers often felt compelled to accept concessions, while public officials pursued policies designed to enhance the state's business appeal. While corporate leaders faced resistance from unionists and their allies, their strategic use of capital flight helped shift the balance of power in favor of employers in New York state.