The American labor movement is killing itself | REMARK


Joe Biden likes to talk about how “unions built this country”. He’s right – up to a point. From FDR to Nixon, the labor movement has played an important role in determining the nation’s economic destiny.

Since the 1970s, a decade marked by economic extremes Biden seems determined to revisit, the labor movement has been in decline. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, participation in the labor movement is down across the board. The number of private sector workers affiliated with unions is at an all-time low of 6.1%, and the total number of unionized workers has fallen by nearly a quarter of a million in 2021.

Unions have lost a lot of weight over the years. Business conditions at the time forced business leaders to start seriously considering moving essential operations out of the United States. Their remaining political influence comes from contributions extracted from members to fund political activities that influence politicians who protect their interests.

Conventional wisdom holds that union membership is declining because laws have not kept up with the times. Union leaders and the politicians they keep in their pockets say it has become too difficult for workers to organise. They want to increase their membership by going back to the days when people had to join a union as a condition of employment, even if they didn’t want to.

It is an interesting approach, but it does not correspond to the facts. American workers may no longer need unions as they once did. Post-industrial-era employers have gotten smarter, offering better wages and benefits and more flexibility on the jobsite than many union shops allow.

The unions, of course, would oppose it. But what do they have to show to succeed?

The high-profile 2021 effort to organize workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama failed when it was later voted down by a 2-to-1 margin. The unions got the better of that vote, but we’ll see if that changes the result.

In Colorado, local members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union found themselves betrayed by their president, Kim Cordova, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

In recent weeks, negotiations over a new contract between supermarket chain King Soopers and UFCW Colorado Local 7 have become strained amid a strike that has restricted access to food and brought a devastating blow to the inhabitants of the region.

Biden’s economy has made it difficult. Inflation is eating away at wage increases like it hasn’t in decades. Hours before the strike began, the union rejected an offer from King Soopers to raise the minimum starting wage to $16 an hour and wage increases of up to $4.50 an hour for its members.

For 10 days, union members sat at home or marched on a picket line as Cordova continued to collect her annual salary of more than $200,000 while promising she would get a better deal.

The offer eventually accepted by the majority of Local 7 members appears to include many of the same proposals Cordoba called “concessional” days earlier according to the World Socialist Web Site. That same week, Sanders hosted a virtual panel that amounted to little more than “damage control for the union” and praising Cordova’s leadership.

If that doesn’t seem right, that’s because it isn’t. But it has happened time and time again as union bosses such as Cordova choose what is good for the union and themselves over what is good for the workers. In the 1960s, New York newspaper union leaders allowed a handful of daily newspapers to close rather than grant concessions that would have kept them alive and people working. During Obama’s presidency, unions vetoed a plan by a private sector entrepreneur to take the Saturn brand out of the hands of General Motors as long as he could run it as a non-union business. Again, the union survived, but the workers did not.

Politicians like Biden and Sanders who say the labor movement is dying have to admit that it is labor leaders like Cordova who are killing it. It’s not murder. It’s suicidal.

Peter Roff is a former UPI and US News & World Report columnist who is now affiliated with several Washington DC-based public policy organizations. Contact him at [email protected]


Comments are closed.