In 2014, the union membership rate was a mere 11 percent in the U.S. This is down 0.2 percent from 2013, which does not seem like a notable decline. However, this is a 98-year low in America. To get some idea of this immense drop in union membership, the union membership rate was 20 percent in 1983 and 28 percent in 1954, according to Cornell University.
Labor unions are vital to the nation’s success. President Eisenhower himself once even said, “Labor is the United States. The men and women, who with their minds, their hearts and hands, create the wealth that is shared in this country–they are America.”
Policies against unions
However, government and policy have victimized unions for decades. The Taft Hartley Act of 1947 expanded employer rights at the expense of union rights. Some of the clauses prohibited closed shop for unions, secondary boycotts, and federal employee strikes. It was even referred to as the “slave labor” act by its opponents.
In 1978, labor unions put together a bill to strengthen the National Labor Relations Board. Big business significantly outspent labor efforts, ensuring that this bill did not pass.
In 1981, President Reagan dismissed 3,000 striking workers of the traffic controllers union. Businesses and Corporations began to hire strike breakers, effectively posing a viable threat to any union that dared to go on strike. There were 371 strikes in 1970; there were only 11 in 2010.
According to CNN, “For the sake of our economic and political future, however, America would be better off if we had more strikes.”
Labor Unions are essential to democracy and equality
The graph shows the rise of the Gini coefficient, which correlates with the rise in inequality.
-Photo By Wushi-En [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]
We need labor unions in the U.S. for a variety of reasons. First, the decline in unionization is correlated to the increase in income inequality. According to a study
by the International Monetary Fund, about half of the increase in the Gini coefficient–a measure of inequality–and the significant rise in incomes of the top 10 percent can be explained by the decline in unionization. Historically, times of high union membership were also times of low inequality.
Second, unions provide a checks and balances system of sorts to the corporate world. Labor unions increase worker moral, protect basic worker rights, and are essentially the epitome of the middle class. Although there is corruption in some unions, there is also corruption in the corporate world. Even a flawed union can balance out a flawed corporation.
Unchecked corporations consume money and power, as presented in the quote from Wealth vs. Work below.
The fact is, however, people at the top of the pyramid are continuously redistributing wealth from the common people to their own pockets (this is the history of human kind), allying themselves with those who run the political system, writing self-serving rules concerning investments, credit, insurance, and banking. Even when the day of reckoning comes, and markets tank, the people in charge of corporate capitalism and finance manage to recover or get rescued by the system…
[In the 2008/2009 Recession], it was the ordinary worker who paid the bill. Money was redistributed from the bottom of the pyramid to the top…The rest of the world saw a system of government, which was supposed to regulate, monitor and hold people accountable, that allowed the robber barons of the twenty first century complete immunity and placed the rest of the world in jeopardy.”
-Wealth vs. Work: How 1% Victimizes 99%. pp. 138-139. Allan Ornstein
According to the New York Times, the decline in labor unions could help explain why CEOs of large corporations earned, on average, “20 times as much as the typical worker in 1965, and 296 times as much in 2013, according to the Economic Policy Institute.”
In the words of Elaine Bernard of Harvard University in the piece Why Unions Matter, “Because we have not yet succeeded in extending democracy to the workplace, democracy and civil society themselves are threatened.”