Detroit—The number of unionized workers in the U.S. last year dropped by 400,000 members, to 14.3 million workers. This unexpectedly sharp decrease, to 11.3% of the work force, dropped union membership to the lowest it has been since 1916, when it was 11.2% of the work force, according to a report in The New York Times.
The reasons are many. Assaults on unions like right-to-work legislation in Indiana and Michigan and laws narrowing the right to union representation in Wisconsin had a huge impact on unions locally and nationally, as well as on the attitudes of workers toward their unions. Union membership last year fell by 13% in Wisconsin, by 18% in Indiana and by 6.6% in Michigan.
Huge demonstrations, rallies and protests by workers and their allies before anti-union legislation was passed, revealed clearly that workers were more than willing to do whatever was necessary to prevent the legislation, and they had massive national public support. This revolutionary spirit was quashed by union and political leaders and the reactionary legislation passed, dealing crippling blows to workers.
Nationally, the number of government union workers fell by 234,000 last year with deep cuts of teachers, police and firefighters as state budgets tightened. The states with the least number of union workers, as expected, are clustered in the South, where most have right-to-work laws that depress income, seen dramatically in the fact that full-time workers in right-to-work states make about $38,600 a year compared to workers in union states who make about $49,000 a year.
That is undoubtedly emboldening reactionary politicians in other states to introduce similar laws. It is no secret that Right-wing politicians in every state have such legislation already drawn up and are waiting for any opportunity to get such laws passed.
Other factors dimming unionization include the sophisticated strategies corporations employ to oppose unions along with intimidation, harassment and firing of workers. When union efforts succeed, corporations can delay the unionization procedures for years. The specter of unemployment is always looming on the horizon—not only the national unemployment rate, but also corporate threats to move jobs overseas or to other manufacturing facilities.
But the most important development is the transformation of union leadership from being militant fighters to contract concessionary specialists and corporation supporters. Workers have always known when their leaders represent or misrepresent their aspirations, and supported the most effective fighters for their interests.
Now unions have become so bureaucratized that the leadership is pounded into a mold to support policies to keep themselves in office, not to fight for the workers. This has resulted in an ever-widening chasm between the workers and leaders to the point that the leaders are now seen by the rank-and-file workers as their enemies rather than their champions. This has been confirmed with every contract that the workers reject but have forced down their throats.
Such constant betrayals have clearly revealed to the workers that, although they are aware that they are in a daily life-and-death class struggle with their corporate capitalist rulers, their leaders are not and cannot be trusted.