Friday, January 25, 2013

Labor's Decline

Organized labor continues to shrink. We're down to 11.3% of the work force, the lowest since 1916; this according to new information reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you read the story yesterday by Steven Greenhouse, you know that the right-to-work law in Indiana and the loss of collective bargaining rights for public sector workers in Wisconsin, both passed by Republican legislatures following Tea-Party fueled triumphs in the 2010 midterm elections, had a lot to do with the significant one-year decline:
Union membership showed sharp drops in Wisconsin, which passed a law in 2011 curbing the collective bargaining rights of many public employees, and in Indiana, which enacted a right-to-work law last February that may have prompted many workers to drop their union membership.
Such laws prohibit requiring employees at unionized workplaces to pay union dues or fees. The bureau’s report showed that union membership fell by 13 percent last year in Wisconsin and by 18 percent in Indiana — both unusually large numbers for a single year.
Barry T. Hirsch, a labor economist at Georgia State University, said an analysis he conducted found that the number of government employees in Wisconsin belonging to a union slid by 48,000 last year, to 139,000 from 187,000, as many public sector workers evidently decided to quit their unions after the Republican-led legislature stripped them of most of their bargaining rights.
Speaking about the nation as a whole, Professor Hirsch said: “I am really surprised that the drop in unionization was as large as it is in a single year, and it was particularly big in the public sector. It does seem you are seeing reductions in some of the states that you might expect.”
For instance, in Indiana, where the right to work law took effect last March, unionization dropped to 9.1 percent from 11.3 percent in 2011. Michigan enacted a similar law last month.
I asked at least four people at the local where I work if they had seen this story. No one had. Not a single person. Greenhouse quotes the chief economist for the AFL-CIO, William Spriggs, who tries to spin the the bleak BLS report by arguing that unionization is up in key states like California, Texas and North Carolina. “'It’s not a simple story that we don’t have our act together,' Mr. Spriggs said. 'I would be more concerned if union membership was down among Latinos and Asian-Americans, because that’s a growing demographic, but it’s up.'”

But it is a simple story that labor doesn't have its act together. Unions have money, at least the internationals and large locals do. Organizers could be employed; things could be turned upside down. But leadership is overwhelming old and overwhelming preoccupied with holding on to the assets it controls. So as the boat sinks the shibboleth for labor is, "Don't rock the boat."

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