More Workers Joining Unions to Defend Against the Bosses’ Attacks

As the crisis of capitalism continues to unfold, big business and its hired politicians are increasing their attacks against wages, benefits and working conditions.  In the private sector, pensions are becoming a thing of the past.  Now, job security is becoming a big issue as the employers eliminate millions more jobs.

It is no surprise that many workers are turning to the labor movement and joining unions as a way to fight back against the bosses.  When layoffs occur in a non-union workplace, many workers are given no notice and only find out that they have been let go when the security guard comes to escort them out of the building.

In a recent article by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), statistics show that union membership in the U.S. has grown for the second year in a row.  This reverses a more than 40-year trend where the unionized portion of the labor force was being reduced.  After the Second World War, about 40 percent of the labor force was unionized.  Most of the unionized workers were in the private sector.  Unions among workers in the federal, state and local government sector greatly expanded in the 1960s and 1970s.  At that time, they were generally paid lower wages than workers in the private sector.

In the late 1970s, about 20 percent of the private sector workforce were in unions, while more than 30 percent of the public sector workforce was unionized.  Since the post World War II economic boom ended in the 1970s, employers have gone on an offensive against attempts to unionize workers and have eliminated jobs in the more heavily unionized sectors of the economy.  This deteriorated to the point where in 2006, only 12 percent of the labor force was unionized.  However, this trend now seems to be changing.  In 2007, 12.1 percent of the labor force was unionized and in 2008, 12.4 percent of the labor force was organized into unions.

According to the CEPR, private sector unionization grew from 7.5 percent to 7.6 percent, despite the reduction in overall employment by businesses. In 2007, 35.9 percent of public sector employees were in unions and this increased to 36.8 percent in 2008.  It is also interesting to note that unionization among Latinos increased from 9.8 percent to 10.6 percent, while among Black workers, membership increased from 14.3 percent to 14.5 percent.  White workers’ unionization rate grew from 11.8 percent to 12.2 percent.  The biggest growth by region was in the western U.S.  The American South is the least unionized region, with only 5.9 percent of the labor force organized. As the economic crisis deepens, we can predict that this situation will be reversed. The South will be the stage for major unionization drives and bitter clashes between the classes.

The growth in public sector unions is absolutely necessary as the economic crisis begins to have an effect on state and local governments.  Less tax revenue is coming in so the Democrats and Republicans are launching demands for concessions from workers as well as layoffs and furloughs.  There is no way to resist this trend as isolated individuals.  However, if workers are organized and united, our collective power can stop big business and their politicians in their tracks!

It is important to organize more workers into unions.  Many unions support legislation such as the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), to help organize new workers.  The WIL supports the repeal of anti-labor laws, such as Taft-Hartley.  We also support laws such as EFCA that make it easier to organize workers into unions.  However, there is a clause in the EFCA which would allow the employer the right to settle the first union contract through binding arbitration.  Arbitration places the writing of a contract in the hands of lawyers, and the workers must then accept the result, whether they agree with the settlement or not.  We believe that the labor movement should demand that the right of employers to request binding arbitration be eliminated from this bill. The labor leaders should then mobilize the rank and file to get the bill passed.

Whether the EFCA bill passes or not, organizing more workers depends on the union leadership using the full resources and power of the entire labor movement to make this power felt by the employers and their politicians.  It is the power of labor, which produces all goods and services, that can organize workers into new unions, gain strong contracts and fight against the attacks on wages and living standards.  The corporations cannot make their profit and the government can not deliver services without our labor.  If the Feds can bail out the banks, they can bail out states and cities too!  How can private business get federal money and then turn around and lay-off workers?  This fight should be transformed from a defensive struggle to an offensive struggle to fight for a shorter work week with no loss of pay and early retirement as a way of creating more jobs and a better life in general.      

The struggle now is to change the policies of the labor leaders, which has led to the perception that the labor movement is weak and on the defensive.  If we cannot get the labor leaders to change their policies, then we must organize to replace them with people who are not afraid to mobilize the full weight of the labor movement and fight to win.


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