Posts Tagged 'AFL-CIO'

Needed: A New Unionism

In Mother Jones (of all places), Kevin Drum has posted an interesting argument about the need for private sector unions to concentrate on wages and benefits rather than work rules.  This alone is an example of pretty creative thinking for laborites, but it still misses the mark.

Unionism in the private sector is not just down; it’s almost out. Membership has been falling steadily for half a century and is now circling the drain, with membership at 6.9% of the workforce. In 1953 it was 36%.

This disastrous decline has been partly masked by the simultaneous growth of unions in the public sector. While private unions sank, public ones climbed from near-zero in the 1950’s to around 36%, where it has held steady since 1980. Decline has also been disguised by the growing political power of the union movement, as its electoral organizing skills have improved even as membership organizing has languished.

Why the decline? Why have private sector workers stopped joining unions?

The unions have a ready answer: it’s too hard to organize because employers cheat. They scare and intimidate and fire workers who try to organize.

Undoubtedly true, in too many cases. Union-busting consultants have a bag of anti-union tricks that can certainly make certification elections hard to win.

But that just begs the question. Why only now? Didn’t employers know these tricks during all the years unions were growing? Didn’t Henry Ford know how to intimidate workers? Didn’t the steel companies? Didn’t construction firms? Coal-mine operators? The Mohawk Valley Formula for union-busting dates back to 1936.

So why are so many unions now stymied by employer opposition?

Other possible explanations for union decline abound. Many heavily unionized manufacturing and textile industries have moved jobs overseas in search of lower costs.

But other industries that are largely homebound have not been organized in their place.

And in fact many newer industries (high-tech, for instance) are often fairly good employers, offering decent benefits and workplace flexibility in a conscious effort to attract a happy, productive, and non-union workforce.

Private sector unions may be short of members, but not of excuses.

Continue reading ‘Needed: A New Unionism’

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