Why The Labor Movement Matters Now More Than Ever


Prior to the push back against radical privatization measures in Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, the relevance of organized labor in the political sphere seemed in question. Increasing globalization drove out its manufacturing base and a series of strong anti-union gains in the airline and automotive industries rolled back some of the labor movement’s more recent successes.

But it wasn’t until the aftermath of the November 2010 election did the importance of a strong, unified and even politically independent labor movement become so obvious. For the first time, organized labor was not simply pushing back against demands for wage concessions, it was pushing back against calls to privatize entire industries (where the labor movement has largely been busted entirely), to eradicate fundamental worker protections like the minimum wage and child labor laws and efforts to starve the regulatory apparatus that ensures private sector compliance with worker protections.

Republicans and plutocrats may crow about the economic efficiency and value these privatization efforts bring, but the reality is the exact opposite. Kids get jailed for cash in some places while counties are forced to step in and take-over once-public facilities now in total disrepair. As we’ve decimated the labor base in this country we’ve also decimated our infrastructure and basic civic services — the very things that made middle-class existence possible.

So this is a Labor Day with a little more importance, maybe, than others because for the first time since the Great Depression, this country is contemplating what life would be like without the safety net that made our greatest years possible.


Related Stories:

Wisconsin Teacher Retire En Masse In Response To Cuts

Gov. Walker Cost Wisconsin Over $700,000 In Legal Fees So Far

Kasich Feels The Heat In Ohio

Photo from marctasman via flickr.


Glenn M.
Glenn Meyer4 years ago

The Kiplinger Letter, Vol.88, No.33 for August 19, 2011, a business newsletter, stated that:

* * *
“U.S. multinationals are plowing more profits back into foreign markets, taking advantage of stronger economic growth overseas and saving on U.S. taxes. GE, for example, reinvested $94 billion abroad in 2010 double its 2006 figure. Chip maker Intel poured nearly $12 billion into foreign investments last year... up from just under 5 billion in 2006. All told about 25 % of S&P 500 firms’ profits won’t be repatriated this year. Health care and tech firms tend to reinvest much more.
Total foreign direct investment will hit the prerecession level later this year.
And for China...another record. It’ll nab $106 billion in foreign investment.”
* * *
This is why we are providing tax breaks to the wealthy and to corporations so that it can fund the export of more U.S. jobs. That is the Republican plan and the efforts of the “job creators” they speak of. This means that tax breaks to the wealthy and to corporations will result in more job losses then are actually created. The Republicans are “job killer” legislators in disguise.

Patrick F.
Patrick f.4 years ago

"And since only 12% of the workforce is unionized, that would indicate they aren't needed."

That is simply not true, the workforce is changing for the worse and they are needed more than ever, ESPECIALLY in a bad economy. I was talking about individual companies that had an opportunity to even vote. Not ones that won't even get off the ground due to intimidation from companies that need unions the most. I worked for such a company and have never seen agents of a company act is such a despicable way. Want to find out if your upstanding boss is a pillar of the community or a thug at heart, start a union....

Don Isaksen
Don I.4 years ago

As long as unions are mandatory to join to be able to get a job, they are nothing more than a legalized form of the Mafia. What's the difference between the Mafia forcing businesses to join their protection rackets and pay dues, and the unions forcing people to join their protection racket and pay dues in order to be able to get a job?

While the penalty for not joining may have been more dangerous with the Mafia, the way the two organizations work is the same, and the outcome for the business being unionized, is about the same. The business is not bombed or burned down, but they are prevented from doing business if they don't comply to the unions demands.

For those union thugs (those who work FOR the union), can you please show us all proof that the union was the cause for all those benefits you claim the union gave everyone? When less than 10% of the work force is union, your claims that companies fear the union are a bunch of BS.

NOBODY should be forced to join a union to be able to get a job. Joining a union should be strictly voluntary.

Don Isaksen
Don I.4 years ago

@Alfred S,
???????????????? And your point is?????????????

Pego R.
Pego R.4 years ago

Unions strengthen nations, ground corporations and keep them from getting too stupid in persuit of their greed. The nations that are strongest around the world are strong union nations and the states where our kids and our futures are best served are strong union states.

Texas, where I am at, is currently enjoying a temporary bloom, again, and once again it is at the expence of our future, our kids are amongst the worst educated, our prison system is ejoying a fattening of slave workers that also cost good jobs for people hwo actually need jobs, while simultaniously putting the nation's personal info into the hands of criminals. Thanks to the Bush jr and Perry years.

Jeffrey W.
Jeffrey W.4 years ago

Unions would not exist if they weren't needed. Who in their right mind would join something that will cost them more and do nothing for them?

And since only 12% of the workforce is unionized, that would indicate they aren't needed.

Nobody in his right mind would join something cost more and did nothing if they had that choice. Most states are not right to work states, however, and most union members have no choice in the matter.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams4 years ago

We really need an employer of last resort program so that anyone willing and able to work for the federal minimum wage can get that much at least. High unemployment is NOT good for the economy.

Glenn M.
Glenn Meyer4 years ago

Linda C.

The construction is outsourced to foreign workers on H2-B visas. All you have to do is drive past some construction sites to see half of Central America at work.

Common C.
Labor is the only thing that is part of the international economy, we still protect our businesses with all kinds of import export laws. The only reason that the investments are being made in foreign countries like China has everything to do with the cheap labor. The U.S. has the most bloated prices in the world. If that were not so the international corporations would leave this country altogether. It is not as though cheaper prices have resulted from the out-sourcing of labor. All prices are going up.

As for purchasing inteligently, that is being circumvented. I worked for a company that imported products made in China and marked as such. The company's job was to take the product out of the marked packaging and put it into unmarked packaging. That is a criminal activity done on a regular basis. Unions are not the only ones that have a criminal reputation. If a company can turn a profit by simply paying the criminal fine, it will engage in the crime. The same company was raided for hiring illegal aliens.

Alfred Supe
Alfred Supe4 years ago

Maybe this is what we need........

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
alive as you and me.
Says I "But Joe, you're ten years dead"
"I never died" said he,
"I never died" said he.

"The Copper Bosses killed you Joe,
they shot you Joe" they filled you full of lead.
"Takes more than guns to kill a man"
Says Joe "I didn't die"
Says Joe "I didn't die"

"In Salt Lake City, Joe," says I,
Him standing by my bed,
"They framed you on a murder charge,"
Says Joe, "But I ain't dead,"
Says Joe, "But I ain't dead."

And standing there as big as life
and smiling with his eyes.
Says Joe "What they can never kill
went on to organize,
went on to organize"

From San Diego up to Maine,
in every mine and mill,
Where working men defend their rights,
it's there you'll find Joe Hill,
it's there you'll find Joe Hill!

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
alive as you and me.
Says I "But Joe, you're ten years dead"
"I never died" said he,
"I never died" said he.

Marianne C.
Marianne C.4 years ago

Anyone who thinks early unionization efforts were not dangerous, look up the Battle of Blair Mountain. During late August and early September of 1921, between 10,000 and 15,000 coal miners in West Virginia literally went to war against an army of police and strikebreakers. By the time the five-day siege was over, a million shots had been fired, and the out-gunned miners had been attacked on the ground by machine gun fire and from the air by a biplane dropping pipe bombs. About 100 miners had been killed, and hundreds more were injured.

And in keeping with the bloody history of brutality, oppression, starvation, and treachery they’d already established, ownership and the local sheriff lied through their teeth about the entire event. It took the presentation of an unexploded pipe bomb as evidence in court to begin to turn the force of the law in the favor of the victimized miners.