The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual report on union membership with the not surprising news that the rate of union membership continues to decline. For the past 30 years we have been fed a steady diet of neoliberal propaganda by the corporate media designed to convince us that unions are becoming an historical anachronism. It generally runs along such lines as: Americans have all adopted middle class values and thus are personally invested in goals of national productivity. The inevitable effects of globalization require that American industry have the flexibility to compete with nations which have low wage work forces.
I just ran across a very interesting article from Bloomberg that offers a very different take on the matter.
It’s conventional wisdom that the post-industrial workforce doesn’t want to be unionized. But survey data show that workers’ desire to join unions has been growing since the 1980s, and a majority of nonunion workers would now vote for union representation if given the opportunity. So if workers want unions, why is unionization falling?
Canada’s experience offers another answer. Canada has gone through many of the same economic and social changes as the U.S. since the middle of the 20th century, yet it hasn’t seen the same precipitous decline in unionization. The unionization rate in the U.S. and Canada followed fairly similar paths from 1920 to the mid-1960s, at which point they began to diverge drastically.The article then goes on to provide a more detailed comparison of labor laws in the two countries. The differences are striking and instructive.
Differences in labor law and public policy are at the root of this disparity.
The Wagner Act was a showpiece of new deal legislation that provided federal support for labor rights in selected industries. It led to significant growth in union membership and unions became a major political force. Once the Republicans regained control of congress in 1946 they teamed up with southern Democrats to pass the Taft-Hartley Act which began the process for undermining and diluting union rights. It has been going on ever since. Unions are the victims of a sustained right wing conspiracy.