As America takes its annual weekend to celebrate Labor a person who pays attention to the issues of the day can’t help but wonder what the Labor movement must do to resurrect its fortunes in the United States.
Those who look back to the 1950s as the time when “America was great” seldom mention that one of the reasons that America was great was labor unions and the good wages and benefits negotiated for workers by those unions. At that time what is known as “union density” – the percent of total workers in unions – stood at around 35% According to the NY Times:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that the overall unionization rate last year was down from 12.3 percent in 2009 and 20.1 percent in 1983, when there were 17.7 million union members. The peak unionization rate was 35 percent during the mid-1950s, after a surge in unionization during the Great Depression and after World War II.
BLS statistics from earlier this year reiterate the downward trend in union membership:
The union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions–was 11.1 percent in 2015, unchanged from 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.8 million in 2015, was little different from 2014. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.
But there is a bright spot in the public sector:
• Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (35.2 percent) more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.7 percent).
• Workers in protective service occupations and in education, training, and library occupations had the highest unionization rates (36.3 percent and 35.5 percent, respectively).
As unions have dwindled so has the American paycheck. Where once a single worker in a household could earn enough to sustain that household, now two earners can barely do so.
Labor unions have been battered by a huge headwinds since Ronald Reagan became president, the first of which was Reagan’s betrayal of the air traffic controllers union after the union felt Reagan would not bother them if they struck. We all remember what happened next.
Since then the battles that moneyed interests had against labor have become an all out war. Some of the tactics that have been used in this war has been to send jobs overseas, end union shop states, the rise of consultants whose business is to stop unions, the enticement of foreign workers to enter our country and be exploited with lower wages and with the dawn of the computer age the use of robots or electronics to replace human workers.
However while the future is not exactly bright right now, there are some silver linings out there. Now more than ever, voting for Democrats at the federal, state and local level has never been more important. So be sure to vote and vote with your best interests interests in mind. Once we elect a progressive slate to congress, to the presidency and to the state house we will need to hold their feet to the fire to make sure our needs are met.