Essay On Trade Union Decline

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With so-called right-to-work laws on the books in twenty-eight states (including every state south of the Mason–Dixon Line except Maryland), unions are understandably apprehensive over what the ruling will mean for their membership and finances should “agency fees” in public-sector unions become a thing of the past.

Rand Wilson, now chief of staff for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 888 and formerly a strategist for the Teamsters during the successful United Parcel Service strike of 1997, sees danger and promise both.

“The right wing recognizes the labor movement as a barrier to the achievement of its reactionary goals,” says Gene Bruskin, who led the campaign to organize Smithfield Foods in 2008.

The Smithfield campaign resulted in the first union contract for 5,000 workers at a massive pork operation in North Carolina, then the state with the lowest union membership in the nation.

Trump had better hurry up and build his wall while the traffic is still moving north.

Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” and other such cynical measures arguably have more to do with cutting labor costs than curtailing the flow of illegal immigration.“To employers, migration is a labor-supply system,” writes David Bacon, a photojournalist who studies labor issues on both sides of the US-Mexico border.“US immigration policy is not intended to keep people from crossing the border; it determines the status of people once they are in the United States.” In short, a fearful workforce is easier to exploit.As expected, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke for the dissent.Noting that in 1992 only 2 percent of non-unionized employers used mandatory arbitration agreements, while 54 percent use them now, Ginsburg said that by upholding these “arm-twisted” and “take-it-or-leave-it” contracts, the Court had all but guaranteed “the under-enforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well-being of vulnerable workers,” a weakening that some attorneys worry will extend to cases of discrimination and sexual harassment.Public-sector unions scarcely existed before the Sixties, when private-sector workers accounted for the bulk of the organized third of the American workforce.Now 34.4 percent of public-sector workers are unionized, more than five times the rate of their private-sector counterparts.* Public-sector unions make convenient targets for whipped-up envy, cast as parasites “living off the rest of us,” a role once filled by “welfare cheats.” That most of their members are women and many are women of color probably makes the transference easier.As for Trump himself, he is at best a catalyst for the fight, at worst a distraction from what may already have been the opening salvos of labor’s last stand. At issue in both cases was whether public employees who choose not to join unions can still be charged for representation.In a 5–4 decision, the Court ruled that they cannot.Gorsuch dismissed Ginsburg’s objections as “apocalyptic.” I don’t mind an apocalypse as long as the angels win. Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, I have been talking to people in and around the labor movement, going on the premise that American workers may soon be engaged in a virtual Armageddon with capital.While the working class has hardly lost all ground, it has seen enough of its victories reversed to warrant such a prediction.


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