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Reports Of The Labor Movement’s ‘Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated’

The Right ‘Promised’ Its Anti-Union Campaigns ‘Would Yield Republican Victories’ In 2018, But Unions ‘Have Been Bouncing Back,’ As The GOP’s Defeats Make Clear

Published Monday, December 24, 2018
by Steve Rosenthal/
Reports Of The Labor Movement’s ‘Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated’

Google the phrase “Unions are dying” and you’ll see a host of news stories reporting this demise over the past year - celebrated on the Right, lamented on the Left - but, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of this death have been greatly exaggerated.

Union Membership has been in decline in the United States for the past 40 years as a result of de-industrialization, globalization, automation, fierce employer opposition, and Labor Laws that make it extremely difficult for Workers to organize - as well as some self-inflicted wounds. Today, just 10.7%of American Workers belong to a Union.

Since their inception, Unions have constantly been under attack from Right-Wing Elected Officials and the corporations that support them.  With sweeping Republican victories at the State level during the Obama years, Anti-Union forces upped their efforts to end Unionism in the U.S.  They pushed so-called Right-To-Work (for less) Legislation and other Anti-Union initiatives in multiple States.  Those efforts only intensified after they won control of every branch of the Federal Government in 2016.

At the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), long-time anti-tax gadfly Grover Norquist and then-Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Reince Priebus led a session of thousands of Conservative activists called, “On Wisconsin! Turning Blue States Red.”  They were practically popping the champagne as they celebrated Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attack on Public Sector Collective-Bargaining Rights and lauded it as the model for ensuring Republican control of government.

The Right also began pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into a vast web of tax-exempt organizations, collectively known as the State Policy Network (SPN), to carry out its bidding at the State level.  Almost immediately, some of SPN’s State-based affiliates - like the Freedom Foundation in Oregon, Washington, and California - announced major efforts to defund those States’ Unions.  Tom McCabe, president of the Freedom Foundation, went so far as to say that the organization’s main purpose (in violation of the group’s non-profit tax status) is to weaken Unions so that Republicans could win elections.  Similarly, the Commonwealth Foundation in Pennsylvania sent out a fundraising document calling for “war on Labor Unions.”

For some, the 2016 election signaled the end of Union Power, which they believed had been so weakened in States like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin that it made Trump’s victory in those Battleground States possible.

The conviction that Unions were history was further intensified by the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, which limited Public Sector Unions’ ability to collect fees from Non-Union Members.

But here’s where the storyline changes.

Throughout American History, when Unions have been under attack and supposedly down for the count, they have bounced back.

This time appears to be no different

Consider: Fully 62% of Americans support Unions, according to the Gallup poll.

That number has increased 14 points over the past 10 years.

And, among young adults (18-29-year olds), 68% hold a favorable view of Unions compared to 46% who feel the same about corporations.

As corporate power has increased and Union Membership has decreased, millions of Workers have come to understand that the only way to get ahead is through collective action.

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