In Grand Expectations, James T. Patterson discusses the power and role of the labor unions in American politics immediately after the Second World War. He writes:
More than at any other time in American history, the union movement in 1945 defined the left liberal limit of what was possible in politics.
Patterson does not claim that the unions were completely egalitarian, particularly in their treatment of African Americans, women, and other disadvantaged groups. However, the labor unions did instill a sense of working-class pride in their members and used their considerable power to support liberal social policies and left-wing candidates seeking office.
Patterson cites Walter Reuther of the United Automobile Workers as an example of the new breed of union leader who came to the fore in the post-war period. Reuther combined policies for the day-to-day protection of his members in terms of wages and job security with large social visions of a more progressive and inclusive society. He sought a guaranteed annual income for workers, civil rights legislation to protect minorities, an expansion of the welfare state, and laws to provide universal healthcare and education. While Reuther, a former Socialist, was more radical than most union leaders in his vision of society, most agreed with his demands for higher wages and better working conditions and used the political power of their 14.8 million membership to push for a more liberal agenda.