Updated: Jan 6, 2020
For the past fifty years, unions have been losing power, now to the point where some are questioning their long-term viability. Fifty years ago, the sixty percent of our population economically in the middle, earned 53.2 percent of our national income. Today, the same group earns roughly 45.5 percent. That’s enough of a difference to wildly skew the wealth held by the richest among us and to keep our democracy from working as it should.
During this same period, union membership went from 28.2 percent of American workers in 1968 to less than 11 percent today. The steady downward trajectory of both statistical lines is unmistakably linked. Researchers suggest that roughly one-third of the overall rise in wealth inequity is a result of the decline in union membership.
Unions significantly improve pay and benefits, especially for groups that traditionally face discrimination – women, minorities and alternative lifestyles. Bettering the pay and benefits of average wage earners strengthens the middle class by improving their economic, social and political well-being, which in-turn improves the health of our nation.
So, why the decline in union participation? Surprisingly, the answer is not partisan. During the period in question, the Democratic Party controlled Congress a majority of the time, and even controlled all three branches of the government at various intervals. The decline has no correlation to partisan control.
Most will tell you the decline began with the passage of Taft-Hartley in 1947. We weren’t ready for the fight then, and we have not been able to retake lost ground. A constant chorus of extremely well-financed lobbyists have fought our every move, and we haven’t had a fair shake since then.
At the peak of our power, it was difficult to fight such a well-funded opposition. Today, it is all but impossible. Let me simplify. Not including PAC money, the Chamber of Commerce spends $124,080,000 per year on lobbying. The National Association of Manufacturers spends $12,410,000; and the Business Roundtable spends $14,840,000. That amounts to nearly $350,000 per member of Congress, and that’s only three out of over 300 lobbying organizations.
So, the big question is can we realistically turn the 61 percent favorablity rating, unions currently enjoy with the American public, into meaningful political gain. Yes, but we need to carefully follow a strategic course that makes sense, and we need to let the American people notice the change.
First, we need to be honest, reasonable and local in making our case. We have a good case to make. Second, our leadership must be above reproach. The constant drip of negative stories has got to end. Third, we have to purge the neo-Marxist ideology that began our destruction in the first place. Toppling or even damaging the system on which we live is just dumb. Fourth, we should leverage our influence with whatever political party will do us the most good. As a loyal Democrat, I don’t like the sound of that myself, but there is no question that our Party has taken us for granted far too often, especially when it comes to critical legislation that matters. Finally, we need to be all-in on campaign finance and lobbying reform. There is overwhelming public support for that kind of effort, and we should be leading the way. Unions are all about leadership, so, let’s get’r done! The nation is counting on us.