Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

Union power is rising in the US, and their best ally is Biden

By knl9j May31,2024
News

Editorial The labor market’s tensions combined with the political environment’s shift are giving employees more negotiating leverage. Major unions enthusiastically backed President Biden in January; he is a stronger pro-worker candidate. However, Trump might defeat him in November.

By a vote of almost three to one, workers at the Chattanooga, Tennessee, Volkswagen plant authorized one month ago to become members of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union. In terms of sheer numbers, this is hardly much—in an economy with close to 160 million workers, the vote only affected a few thousand of them. However, it was a big symbolic win for a labor movement that had never achieved a major breakthrough in the South, even in its heyday.

It is therefore not outlandish to imagine that Chattanooga’s vote would be viewed by historians as a pivotal moment in the restoration of America to its former status as a middle-class nation. We have never been really egalitarian, of course. Even in the post-World War II period of almost universal affluence, a lot of Americans—particularly Black Americans—were impoverished, and a small number were extremely wealthy. However, compared to now, our nation was far less uneven in terms of wealth and income.

opposition to attempts at unionization

The rise of unions, which by the late 1940s represented over thirty percent of American workers and continued to be influential until the 1980s, is most likely the reason for this long-lasting movement. Robust unions benefited equality because they provided a check on the influence of large corporations in the marketplace as well as the political clout of wealthy individuals. And there’s no doubt that a significant contributing cause to the birth of the new “Gilded Age” that we are living in today was the demise of unions, which began in the 1980s.

Why are union numbers declining? Given the intense competition they faced on a worldwide scale and the shrinking proportion of employment in the manufacturing sector—their historical stronghold—one could be tempted to believe that their demise was inevitable. However, other developed economies continue to have high levels of unionization; in Sweden and Denmark, for instance, over two thirds of workers are union members.

What then transpired in America? The most likely explanation is that, starting in the 1970s, employers grew increasingly aggressive in their opposition to unionization efforts. They were helped in this approach by a political environment, especially after Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, where Republicans were vehemently opposed to unionization while Democrats, at most, gave it lip service.

These components that bolster workers’ power

Certain pre-existing unions were disbanded; the most well-known example is that of air traffic controllers. More significantly, though, unionization has tended to dwindle as the US economy has shifted more and more toward being a service economy.

There has never been a sound economic argument against widespread unionization of behemoth companies like Walmart and Amazon. However, they rose to prominence during a period when employers were free to obstruct union activists, sometimes even going so far as to persecute them.

This takes us to the current circumstance, which may mark a turning point. Currently, workers’ negotiating power is strengthened by two factors. The first is the strain that permeates the labor market: the current unemployment rate is below 4% for the longest time since the 1960s.

Trump is antagonistic against unions

The other factor is the shifting political landscape. After visiting a UAW picket line in September of last year, President Biden is arguably the most pro-worker president since Harry Truman (1945–1953). This is far more than just hand gestures.

The Federal Trade Commission, for instance, recently eliminated the majority of noncompete agreements, which forbid employees of one business from taking a job offer from a competitor; As unbelievable as it may sound, these clauses have a significant impact on around 30 million workers and have contributed significantly to a decline in labor market competition.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Biden had the fervent backing of significant unions in January, such as the UAW, and at the end of April, the Building Trades Unions, who collectively represent almost 3 million workers in the US and Canada. Of course, Biden could lose in November, and despite Trump’s claims to be a populist, his past indicates that he is anti-union. Thus, nothing can be guaranteed.

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