Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Are Unions Back?

GM workers just walked out on strike, trying to leverage what seems to be an upsurge of support for unions and strikers across America:
Successful strikes beget more strikes. When nearly 50,000 General Motors workers walked out at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, it was just the latest in the largest burst of strikes in decades. Last year’s victorious teachers’ strike in West Virginia was the initial spark, helping inspire statewide walkouts in Oklahoma and Arizona as well as strikes in Kentucky, Colorado and Los Angeles.

The G.M. strikers could taste labor’s newfound successes and momentum.

The teachers’ unions felt unusually robust public support, as parents and students marched with them. Union leaders and union members felt a new boldness from the surge of good will. This helped inspire a strike last fall by 7,700 Marriott workers in eight cities, and those workers trumpeted a message that resonated far beyond their industry: that their pay increases were not nearly keeping up with soaring housing costs, so they could not survive on one job.

The hotel workers’ success in turn helped inspire the strike by 30,000 Stop & Shop workers in New England in April. Union leaders there were surprised by the deep community support the grocery workers received — supermarket cashiers have never been as beloved as public-school teachers. Politicians stepped up, too. Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren marched alongside them. The G.M. strikers are no doubt counting on similar political backing.

The strong public opinion behind these strikes can be tied to Americans’ widespread dismay with wage stagnation and income inequality, even as corporate profits are flying high. While job numbers and economic growth are strong, many American are barely getting by. . . .

All this might help explain why a recent Gallup poll found that public approval for unions has climbed to 64 percent, up from 48 percent a decade ago and near its highest level in 50 years. An M.I.T. study last year found that nearly 50 percent of nonunion workers say they would vote to join a union if they could, up from 32 percent in 1995.
I find all this very encouraging. Opinion on both the left (Berniebros) and the right (Trumpism) has moved in favor of workers and what Marxists used to call "industrial action." If some of the energy we have been devoting to hating the other party can be channeled into unionization and fighting for pay increases, we might actually achieve something beyond claiming corpses on Twitter. But note that even now the highest number any poll has produced for workers wanting to unionize is 50 percent, and it will take a lot more support than that to bring unions back as a major tool of economic leveling. I still doubt that our individualistic age will go there.

1 comment:

Shadow said...

I'm not an economist, and I don't stay abreast of recent economic trends, but my spidey sense is tingling over this. Are teachers a good comparison? As a governor I can't outsource teaching to Vietnam (or Mexico) because our teachers demand better pay. But as a CEO of a car manufacturer, I can certainly outsource production if my workers demand better pay. The only thing I am aware of that would prevent this is tariffs or some such excise-type tax. It's probably going to take some time analyzing long-term effects before declaring victory.

But what am I missing? Certainly UAW has thought of what I just said, and they decided to go ahead and strike anyway. So I must be missing something. Do they think this upsurge in support will translate into a car boycott if GM should be so bold as to move more plants overseas or to Mexico? Or do they think outsourcing would be more costly than giving them what they are asking for?