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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

State Of The Union

James Surowiecki on the decline in unions:

State Of The Unions, by James Surowiecki: In the heart of the Great Depression, millions of American workers did something they’d never done before: they joined a union. ...
Seventy-five years later, in the wake of another economic crisis, things couldn’t be more different. ... In the recent midterm elections, voters in several states passed initiatives making it harder for unions to organize. Across the country, governors and mayors wrestling with budget shortfalls are blaming public-sector unions for the problems. And in polls public support for labor has fallen to historic lows. ...
There are a couple of reasons for this. In the past, a sizable percentage of American workers belonged to unions, or had family members who did. Then, too, even people who didn’t belong to unions often reaped some benefit from them...: in heavily unionized industries, non-union employers had to pay their workers better in order to fend off unionization. Finally, benefits that union members won for themselves—like the eight-hour day, or weekends off—often ended up percolating down to other workers. ...
Even though unions remain the loudest political voice for workers’ interests, resentment has replaced solidarity... The Great Depression invigorated the modern American labor movement. The Great Recession has crippled it.

Globalization also works against unions, and lack of political support over the last several decades -- or in some cases attempts by politicians to undermine unions -- has not helped either. It's not clear what type of institution can work at an international level to restore the bargaining power workers have lost with the decline in unions, but it is clear that something like this is needed.

    Posted by on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 12:04 AM in Economics, Unemployment | Permalink  Comments (35)


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