The Political Imbalance Facing Unions in America

May 9th, 2013 at 11:09 am

Harold Meyerson’s piece on the future of labor unions is a worthy read on an important topic (which, ftr, is pretty much always the case with Harold’s commentaries).   Harold’s thesis, one that the economist Richard Freeman (dean emeritus of labor economists and one of my heroes) hypothesized about years ago in his book “America Works,” is that employers’ opposition to collective bargaining in most industries has become too steep.  They block union organizing with impunity.

Instead, unions are organizing actions for progressive change that may not boost their membership but instead helps to boost one of their central goals of a more equitable distribution of growth.  For example:

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has detailed dozens of organizers to fast-food joints in a number of cities: There have been one-day strikes of fast-food workers in New York and Chicago, and such actions are likely to spread. The goal isn’t a national contract with companies such as McDonald’s but the eventual mobilization of enough such workers in sympathetic cities and states that city councils and legislatures will feel compelled to raise the local minimum wage or set a living wage in particular sectors.

But allow me to add this, learned from my many years as a DC wonk in that rarified space where economics, politics, and power intersect.  The problem unions face in Washington can be summarized thusly: the Republicans dislike them a lot more than the Democrats like them.

I suspect Harold would agree.  Harold?

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9 comments in reply to "The Political Imbalance Facing Unions in America"

  1. save_the_rustbelt says:

    Being a former union member from a union family, a couple of comments:

    1. It was made very clear that the union officers, the business agents, the union hall and the union checkbook were all dedicated to the service of the Democratic party, and anyone with GOP sympathies should shut the hell up and stay away from the union hall. Ditto for anyone with a sense of ethics.

    2. The officers spent a lot of time stuffing their own checking accounts and pensions, including payroll stacking (local office, district office, regional office, national office). Some were full time union officials and paid government officials (Democrats) at the same time.

    3. Some unions were dedicated to feather bedding and the protection of lousy workers (drunks, druggies, nepotism hires, etc.), think UAW. The UAW woke up a little after throwing away half the US market share for autos.

    So why would businesses want to avoid unions? Hmmmm.


    • urban legend says:

      Propaganda strikes again. It’s deeply ingrained, obviously. That’s why too many Democrats have betrayed all American workers by becoming lukewarm to employees having a say, with equal bargaining power, in their own compensation.


  2. Phil Perspective says:

    The problem unions face in Washington can be summarized thusly: the Republicans dislike them a lot more than the Democrats like them.

    Which means that the unions need to start priamrying asshats like Steve Israel and Steny Hoyer. They need to put the fear of God into D.C. Democrats.


  3. marc says:

    and the media is a lot more interested in management than labor


  4. Rima Regas says:

    I brought up yesterday’s passing of the “Working Families Flexibility Act,” which I see as a transparent attempt by the GOP to further erode the rights of union and non-union workers and fertilize the ground for right-to-work legislation if they ever take over the Senate.

    What saddens me is how we have lost the understanding of workers’ rights. I mentioned the passing of this bill in a New York Times comment today and even those who weren’t trolling me didn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of this GOP attempt.

    We know a lot less about a lot of things, including how we should value ourselves.

    This is bad.


  5. Kevin Rica says:

    “The problem unions face in Washington can be summarized thusly: the Republicans dislike them a lot more than the Democrats like them.”

    It was the Dems that helped bring in illegal aliens to break the unions. But the Unions are spitting into the wind as long as they support an immigration bill INTENDED to grant employers an unlimited supply of cheap labor.

    FDR: Died 1945; Assassinated 2013 by “Immigration Reform”


  6. purple says:

    Unions in the U.S. are finished. Look at their approval ratings in the under 30 set, particularly in Michigan – where such polling is most copious. And this is supposedly the most progressive age group. In actuality unions are most popular in people over 65. No future there.

    There has to be some notion or understanding of the political meaning of solidarity for unions to flourish. Identity politics isn’t going to cut it when it comes to improving economic conditions for the working classes.

    What this means for the future of the country is rather clear. An entrenched ruling class backed by a narrow hyper-educated meritocracy and a large swath of the U.S. that is falling towards middle income or developing world status. Yet through it all, we will remain the greatest country this earth has seen, forever.


  7. Steve Breeze says:

    Aside from being it being virtually illegal to form a union, unions have had a decades long propaganda war waged against them. Quick think of a movie or TV show with a union member who is not a “thug”. Can’t do it can you?

    Secondly the Democrats do not love unions as much as the GOP hates them because the unions don’t have as deep as pockets as business and never will. Some Democrats will always take money and the bait and side with big business when it matters most to big business.


  8. martins thoughts says:

    The “problem” for unions is much more than a partisan issue. Getting Democrats and/or Republicans to love unions more than they do now assumes the solution to the problem is politics. I disagree.

    Just like any other business, strong unions depend delivering what their customers (members and businesses) want. If they do not, or cannot they will go out of business. The bottom line is unions have become weak because they are not delivering. The reasons for that may be complicated but the reality is not.

    As to placing hope in politicians, politicians push pieces of the pie onto our plate by taking it from someone else, not by making another pie. Political parties would have us believe our prosperity depends upon electing them but, are they gods? Can they create? They are mere men and women like us; with faults like ours but with greater temptations to pride, power, and greed. Unless U.S. companies, using union labor, produce things the rest of the world (or nation) values, for less money and of better quality than anyone else (including China) we are going to be arguing over scraps. Our salvation does not depend upon our politicians.


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