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Vol. 79/No. 5      February 16, 2015

Membership drop poses
need to rebuild unions

The rate of union membership in the U.S. declined last year, as has been the case since the early 1980s, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Jan. 23.

Only 11.1 percent of workers were in unions in 2014, down from 11.3 percent the previous year. The number of workers in union jobs in the private and public sectors was about even — 7.4 million and 7.2 million respectively. But the percentage of workers in unions in the private sector was only 6.6 percent. For public workers it was 35.7 percent.

While the actual number of union members modestly increased, so many more have been hired into nonunion jobs that the overall percentage has fallen. Union membership increased by about 41,000 in the private sector, but employment there rose by almost 2.6 million workers.

Among the private industries adding union jobs in 2014 are construction, which is beginning to rebound, and so-called leisure and hospitality, where many workers receive low wages and part-time hours.

One of the biggest declines in union membership was in Michigan, once a center of auto production, dropping by nearly 2 percent to 14.5 percent in 2014. New York has the highest union membership rate, at 24.6 percent, while North Carolina has the lowest at 1.9 percent.

According to the Labor Department, union members working a full-time job had a median weekly wage of $970, while those not in unions got $763.

The number of public workers declined by nearly a quarter of a million as a result of cutbacks by federal and state governments. In some states public-sector union membership has also been falling because of anti-labor laws passed in recent years.

Membership in the Wisconsin State Employees’ Union has dropped 60 percent and its budget has plunged by two-thirds since the passage of a 2011 state law severely restricting collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions.

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who won passage of that law, has decided there’s no need to push for a state right-to-work law, given the already weakened condition of the unions. In addition to the fall in the number of organized government workers, private-sector union membership in Wisconsin is below 7 percent.

Instead of responding through a political course of winning working-class solidarity to reverse this situation, public union officials increasingly function as a lobbying appendage of the Democratic Party, one of the two political instruments of the employing class.

Public employees confront the capitalists only indirectly. Their employers — local, state or federal agencies — are not capitalists, but government bodies that represent the class interests of the bosses.

Privately employed workers, on the other hand, directly confront a boss and can use their collective power on the shop floor and on the picket line to answer employer attacks, including going on strike and denying profits to the wealthy owners. But the strength of industrial unions has also been sapped over many decades by the class-collaborationist course of the officialdom of subordinating labor’s interests to the Democratic Party.

What’s needed is to rebuild the union movement in the mines, mills, factories and elsewhere as a fighting tool for workers to answer the bosses’ attacks, championing the struggles of working people at home and abroad.
Related articles:
Nat’l oil workers strike fights for job safety
Walkout at 9 refineries largest since 1980
On the Picket Line
Ukraine coal miners protest gov’t attacks as war in east takes toll
Workers fight frame-up for Lac-Mégantic rail disaster
1978 disasters show danger from rail bosses’ drive for profit
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