Friday, June 17, 2022

Make the Unions Stronger


At their height in the mid-20th century, one in three workers was a union member, and today, scarcely one in 10 is. All of the downstream damages to the working class — lower relative wages, higher economic inequality, less political power — flow from this decline. 

Liz Shuler, the newly elected president of the AFL-CIO, announced from the convention stage of the formation of the Center for Transformational Organizing,” with the stated goal of organizing at least 1 million new working people in the next 10 years.

Let’s do a little quick math. 

One decade ago, in 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says there were 14.8 million union members in America, for a union density of 11.8%. In 2021, the most recent year on record, there were 14 million union members, for a density of 10.3%. In raw numbers, 800,000 union members were lost in the past decade. So adding a cool million in the next decade seems pretty good. Right? 

No. According to the BLS, America will add 12 million jobs during the 2020s decade, with total employment rising to 165.4 million by the year 2030. One million is only 8% of those. If we very conservatively estimate there will be 166 million total workers by 2032, and we add a million new union members, there would be 15 million union members a decade from now, for a union density of less than 10%. Which is to say: The AFL-CIO’s highly touted organizing plan would represent a continued decline of unions for the next decade, and an acceptance of single-digit union density, which is the last stop before true irrelevance. Rather than unprecedented union growth,” as advertised, this would represent extremely well-precedented degrowth.

 Liz Shuler about explained  this projection. It’s a target, it’s a threshold, that we could get every union in the federation to buy into, which is a feat in and of itself,” Shuler said. The federation has never been seen as the place that does the organizing, it’s the unions themselves. And so if the federation sets a goal, it’s a hollow goal, if you don’t have the unions behind you 100%.” 

high-profileIt is good that they are trying, at long last, to feature new organizing as a high profile priority, and it is good that they are trying to set a goal but the plain facts are that the nation’s largest body of organized labor has announced a goal that represents a decline in the single most important measure of union strength.

Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO’s largest union, took the view that, It’s important to put a number out there,” she said. Is it too low? Of course it’s too low!” 

Her point was that the decline of unions has been more than a half-century in the making, and any reversal of that would take a long time, and the mere act of having a goal that all of these dozens of disparate unions would agree to was a worthy first step. 

The problem is that the goal is unaspiring and it won’t do much good if achieved.

The AFL-CIO's Official New Goal: Continued Decline - In These Times

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