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‘We Have Reason To Celebrate:’ Americans ‘Are Starting To Love Unions Again’ - Union Approval ‘Is Now Higher Than At Nearly Any Point In The Last 50 Years.’

Published Saturday, September 28, 2019
by Meagan Day/Jacobin Magazine
‘We Have Reason To Celebrate:’ Americans ‘Are Starting To Love Unions Again’ - Union Approval ‘Is Now Higher Than At Nearly Any Point In The Last 50 Years.’

We have cause to celebrate.

Public support for Unions reached 64% in a recent Gallup poll.

Gallup has been asking the public about support for Unions since 1936.

Since 1967, the polling agency observes, the Union Approval Rating “has only occasionally surpassed 60%.

The current 64% reading is one of the highest Union Approval Ratings Gallup has recorded over the past 50 years.

To make sense of this trend, we need to take three factors into account: Wage stagnation and benefits erosion; The Teachers’ Strike Wave; and the rise of Bernie Sanders.

The first factor - substandard wages and benefits - only makes sense when you consider it alongside the other two.

Wages are increasingly insufficient to cover skyrocketing living costs and employers continue to slash benefits to increase profits, making life harder for Working People.

This is an obvious source of frustration with the status quo, a basic factor that causes Working People to turn to collective action in the form of Unions.

But worsening conditions don’t automatically juice Unions’ approval rating and they certainly don’t lead directly to increased Union Membership.

On the contrary, wages have been stagnating since the 70s and since then the Union Approval Rating and union Density itself have gone down, not up.

Neo-Liberalism has been ascendant since the mid-70s and in that time its foot-soldiers have been able to both wring more productivity and profit out of Workers without sharing and also convince many Workers that it’s the Unions who are greedy.

So eroded conditions alone are not responsible for the uptick in the Union Approval Rating.

People don’t automatically warm to Unions just because their employers are treating them poorly - they have to be presented with a credible alternative.

Enter the Teachers’ Strike Wave, which started in 2018.

The strikes in West VirginiaOklahomaArizonaCalifornia, Washington, and several other states put Unions in the news, making them visible and relevant to large segments of the population for the first time in decades.

And importantly, by “bargaining for the common good” - or connecting their demands to the well-being of communities as a whole - the strikes were successful at impressing on people that what’s good for Unions and Workers is also good for students, parents - and the entire public.

But there’s still a missing piece of the puzzle.

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