Why the labor movement is nowhere near a real revolution: labor scholarship

Workers organized and took to the picket line in greater numbers in 2022 to demand better wages and working conditions, leading to optimization between the labor leaders and fighters that they witnessed a change in the waning fortunes of labor.

Teachers, reporters and baristas join tens of thousands of striking workers – and it was removed by an act of Congress to prevent 115,000 railroad employees from walking as well. In general, there were at least 20 major work stoppages involving at least 1,000 workers each by 2022, from 16 of 2021and hundreds of smaller ones.

At the same time, the workers of Starbucks, Amazon, Apple and dozens of other companies filed over 2,000 petitions to form unions during the year – the most since 2015. Workers won 76% of the 1,363 elections held.

Historically, however, these numbers have been pretty hot. The number of major work stoppages collapsed for decades, up from nearly 200 as recently as 1980, while union elections typically exceeded 5,000 a year prior to the 1980s. As of 2021, union membership is at its lowest level on record, at 10.3%. In the 1950s, more than 1 in 3 workers belonged to a union.

As a labor scholar, I agree that the evidence shows a surge in union activism. The obvious question is: Do these developments represent a tipping point?

Signs of increased union activism

First, let’s take a closer look at 2022.

The most notable sign of workers’ resurgence is the increase in the number of petitions filed with the National Labor Relations Board. In fiscal year 2022, which ends in September, The workers filed 2,072 petitions, up 63% from last year. Starbucks workers alone filed 354 of these petitions, which won most of the elections held. In addition, the employees of the companies historically considered untouchable by unions, including Apple, Microsoft and Wells Fargoalso scored a win.

Increasing strike activity is also important. And while large strikes involving 1,000 or more employees and tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics draw the most attention, they represent only the tip of the iceberg.

Recorded in the bureau 20 major strikes in 2022, which is about 25% more than the average of 16 a year in the last two decades. Examples of these large-scale strikes include the recent one-day New York Times walkout, two strikes in California which involves more than 3,000 workers at the health care company Kaiser Permanente, 2,100 workers at Frontier Communications and 48,000 workers at the University of California.

As of 2021, Cornell University continues to track of any labor action, however small, and found that there will be a total of 385 strikes in the calendar year 2022, up from 270 last year. In total, these reported strikes took place in almost 600 locations in 19 states., indicating the geographic extent of activism.

Historical parallels

Of course, these numbers are still low by historical standards.

I believe that two previous spikes in the early 20th century offer some clues as to whether recent events may lead to continued gains in union membership.

From 1934 to 1939, union membership increased from 7.6% to 19.2%. A few years later, from 1941 to 1945, the membership increased from 20% to 27%.

Both spikes occurred during times of national and global unrest. The first spike came at the end of the Great Depression, when unemployment in the US reached a quarter of the worker. The economic downturn and the lack of workplace protections led to widespread political and social activism and labor organizing efforts in response. This too contributed to the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, which encouraged organizing in the industrial sector.

The second jump came as the US mobilized its economy to fight a two-front war in Europe and Asia. The national economic mobilization to support the war led to an increase in manufacturing employment, from which the unions profited. The government’s wartime policy encouraged unionization as part of a bargain for industrial peace during the war.

Inequality and pandemic heroes

Today’s situation is a far cry from the economic misery of the Great Depression or the social chaos of a world war, but there are some parallels worth exploring.

Overall unemployment may be near record lows, but economic inequality is higher than during the Depression. the top 10% of households have more than 68% of US wealth In 1936, it’s about 47%.

In addition, the top 0.1% of salaries experienced a nearly 390% increase in real wages from 1979 to 2020, compared to a measly 28.2% increase in wages for the bottom 90%. And manufacturing employment, where unions gained a stronghold in the 1940s and 1950s, will decline by 33% from 1979 to 2022.

Another similarity between the two historical precedents is the national mobilization. The pandemic requires a massive response in early 2020, because workers in industries considered essential, such as health care, public safety and food and agriculture, suffered the brunt of its impact, earning them the label “hero” for their efforts. In such an environment, workers begin to appreciate more than protections they get from unions for safety and health at work, which ultimately helps to give birth to more preferred new labor trends such as “big resignation” and “quiet resignation.”

A stacked deck

In the end, however, the deck is still heavily stacked against unions, with not support labor laws and very few employers showed up true acceptance of having a unionized workforce.

and unions are limited to what extent they can change public policy or the structure of the US economy that makes unionization difficult. Labor law reform through legislation remains elusive, and the results of the 2022 midterms are unlikely to make it any easier.

This leaves me unconvinced that recent signs of progress represent a turning point.

An ace up labor’s sleeve can be public sentiment. Support for work is the highest since 1965, with 71% saying they approve of unions, according to a Gallup poll in August. And the workers themselves are increasingly showing interest in joining them. In 2017, 48% of workers surveyed said they would vote for union representation, up from 32% in 1995, the last time this question was asked.

Future success may depend on the ability of unions to tap into their growing popularity and replicate the recent victories of Starbucks and Amazon, as well as the successful “Fight for $15” campaign, which since 2012 helped pass $15 minimum wage laws in a dozen states and in Washington, DC

The difficulties may be overwhelming, but the seeds of opportunity are there if the work is able to take advantage of them.

Marrick Masters is a Professor of Business and Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Wayne State University.

This article was reprinted from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



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