Editor’s Note: Each week we crosspost an excerpt of Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at WashingtonPost.com.
Labor Day this year comes draped in mourning. More than half of all workers have experienced a spell of unemployment, taken a cut in pay or hours, been forced to go part-time or seen other such problems during and after the Great Recession. Collapsing stock and house prices have destroyed a fifth of the wealth of the average household. Nearly six in ten Americans have canceled or cut back on holidays. Amidst all this, workers increasingly don’t even have labor unions as a potential answer to their insecurities—despite the fact that, of all the institutions in America, they more often than not got it right on the big issues facing the country, generally in the face of a bipartisan political and elite consensus.
Unions are in trouble. They represent less than 13 percent of the workforce and less than 8 percent of private workers. Union workers still receive higher wages and are more likely to have employer-provided health insurance, pensions and paid sick leave than non-union workers. But when unions represented over 33 percent of all private workers in the 1940s, they drove wage increases for everyone—non-union firms had to compete for good workers. Now, unions struggle just to defend their members’ wages and benefits. Over the past decade before the Great Recession, productivity soared, profits rose and CEO pay skyrocketed, but most workers lost ground.
Indeed, if we had listened to unions more often in the past, America wouldn’t be in the predicament it’s in now…
Read Katrina’s full column here.