Conservatives love to trash unions by saying they’re corrupt and do nothing but damage the economy. However, the progressive Economic Policy Institute put together a chart using data compiled from the U.S. Census Bureau. The EPI illustrated a strong correlation between the dwindling number of union membership and income inequality. Union membership is now at its lowest since 1936, with only 11 percent of American workers being union members. As membership increased after 1936 during the Great Depression, peaking at 33.4 percent in 1945 and staying about the same until 1960, the top 10 percent’s share of wealth fell. At a height of 46.3 percent in 1932, the share of wealth held by the richest tenth fell to 31.5 percent by 1944, remaining stable till about 1980. As union membership steadily declined after 1980, the wealthiest Americans saw their share of riches surge.
Wielding the threat of strikes and work slowdowns, organized labor helped generations of Americans. The main way that unions helped workers get better pay was because unions gave those workers a louder voice in politics. Unions exerted considerable political clout, sustaining other political and economic choices (minimum wage, job-based health benefits, Social Security, high marginal tax rates, etc.) that dampened inequality. With unions, there really is power in numbers. American workers used unions to have their voices effectively heard by those in Washington. Now that union membership is at a near-all-time low, American workers aren’t being heard.
But things are changing.
But things are changing.
After years of avoiding confrontation, the labor movement is reasserting itself. From the ports of Los Angeles to the car plants of Detroit, unions are saying it is payback time. Since 2009, management compensation has grown about 50 per cent faster than union workers’ income. In the auto industry, real wages have declined 24pc since 2003, according to the Centre for Automotive Research.
Oil workers have walked off the job for higher wages and better working conditions. Dock workers have snarled West Coast ports. Personnel staffing oil terminals at the Port of Long Beach, California, are threatening to strike. In Detroit, union leaders girding for contract talks this year will push for the first raise veteran autoworkers have received in a decade. Union leaders are taking advantage of a tightening labour market and favourable political environment. With wages stagnating and the rich getting richer, income inequality has become a rallying cry.
“Employers seem to think that they can push unions, the roots of the American working class, off a cliff,” said Dave Campbell, whose union local represents oil-terminal workers at the Port of Long Beach. “Well, these corporations have made a significant miscalculation in our ability to fight back. There’s a lot of labour strife now, and they could have a major confrontation on their hands.”
Pat Patterson, 60, is on strike for the first time in 35 years working as a pipefitter at Tesoro Corp’s refinery in Carson, California. Patterson said his union helped the company survive the recession and now should share the wealth it has since accumulated. “Their whole driver is greed,” he said. “Tesoro is making record profits. There’s more profit, and they don’t want to share it with the workers.”