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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Belatedly, regret for the decline of unions

Posted By on Tue, Jun 5, 2012 at 6:06 AM

LOOK FOR THE UNION LABEL: Garment workers strike in 1909.
  • LOOK FOR THE UNION LABEL: Garment workers strike in 1909.

Joe Nocera, inspired by a new book by Tim Noah on income inequality, decides maybe unions aren't such a terrible thing after all.

Union representation of workers has steadily declined to about 12 percent of the workforce (though with an even punier representation in Arkansas, the "union bosses" remain a sure applause line for wingnut Arkansas Republicans.)

“Draw one line on a graph charting the decline in union membership, then superimpose a second line charting the decline in middle-class income share,” writes Noah, “and you will find that the two lines are nearly identical.” Richard Freeman, a Harvard economist, has estimated that the decline of unions explains about 20 percent of the income gap.

This makes perfect sense, of course. Company managements don’t pay workers any more than they have to — look, for instance, at Walmart, one of the most virulently antiunion companies in the country. In their heyday, unions represented a countervailing force that could extract money for its workers that helped keep them in the middle class. Noah notes that a JPMorgan economist calculated that the majority of increased corporate profits between 2000 and 2007 were the result of “reductions in wages and benefits.”

Where'd the lost wages go? You know the answer to that one. Fatter-than-ever executive paychecks.

Nocera thinks liberals need to rethink joining labor's side. Some liberals — with a choice between labor and multi-millionaire executives of poorly run corporations intent on damaging political agendas — never left.

PS — Gene Jeffress, 4th District Democratic congressional candidate, sent out a photo today of his visit to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall to pick up a contribution.

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