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Labor’s Predictable Decline

Randy Shawbyline‚ Jan. 28‚ 2013

Last week’s announcement that the percentage of unionized workers in the United States has fallen to 11.3%, a 97-year low, brought diverse responses. Some, like Gary Chaison of Clark University, the media’s favorite labor pundit, said unions need to “stop being clever about excuses” and “figure out how to devise appeals to the workers out there.” Others attributed the loss of union jobs to government layoffs and the end of collective bargaining in Wisconsin and other states. The AFL-CIO offered a positive spin, focusing on rising union membership in California and other states, and among Latinos.

But unionization’s decline is no mystery. After struggling for forty years with labor laws that deny fair elections and reward endless employer delays, unions invested $200 million in Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign to secure support for labor law reforms enabling union growth. Labor leaders knew that such reforms were essential, but allowed the Democratic-controlled Congress in 2009 to avoid action. Activists in all fields should learn from this mistake .