Public to Unions: Drop Dead

For years, the AFL-CIO has touted a 2006 survey in which almost 60 million unorganized workers said they would join a union if they could. These positive numbers were supported by other polls that showed that solid majorities of the U.S. population had a favorable view of labor unions and saw them as necessary to protecting workers on the job.

What a difference a couple of years and an economic crisis makes. Today, the Pew Research Center released survey results that should alarm anyone in and around the labor movement. According to Pew:

Favorable views of labor unions have plummeted since 2007, amid growing public skepticism about unions' purpose and power. Currently, 41% say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions while about as many (42%) express an unfavorable opinion. In January 2007, a clear majority (58%) had a favorable view of unions while just 31% had an unfavorable impression.

Yikes. This sharp decline in favorability cuts across all gender, race/ethnicity, income, educational, and political groups. The only bright spot is that a majority (53%) of people under 30 continue to have a favorable view of unions, although that number is down from 66% in 2007. Markedly less people think that unions are necessary to protect workers, and 61% of people think that unions have too much power, even though labor has won almost nothing that it wanted from the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress and overall union density continues to plummet.

The survey does not offer any insight as to why such a sudden and dramatic shift in public attitudes towards unions has taken place, but I think that there are a few factors that are driving these horrible results:

1) The United Auto Workers took a beating in the media during the 2009 auto bailout, and were identified by many as the main culprit behind the decline of the American auto industry. Regardless of their sometimes questionable veracity, all of those stories about GM employees making $70 an hour and having gold-plated benefits did not do much to make the labor movement as a whole look very good in the eyes of millions who were watching their livelihoods go up in smoke. I think a lot of plain old envy at the relative security and prosperity that many union members enjoy drives this particular form of anti-union sentiment.

2) As states and cities around the country struggle with massive budget deficits, supposedly greedy public employees unions are seen by many as one of the main causes (and many times as the primary cause) of state and local fiscal crisis. This is not true, but as anyone who has ever lived probably knows, many people do not have a very high opinion of government employees, to put it mildly.

3) The labor movement has failed in its effort to win the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act or any kind of useful labor law reform, and has looked pretty ineffectual in the process.

4) The unions have not put forth any serious proposal for a jobs program and have not been effective advocates for real healthcare reform, the two domestic issues that people care about the most and could potentially be mobilized behind. They have done little or nothing to advocate for the interests of the working class as a whole during the crisis. The unions have fought hard against the administration's proposed "Cadillac tax" on high-value health insurance plans, but this is only out of self-interest and does little to combat the perception that unions are a special interest that is only concerned with protecting the advantages enjoyed by already existing union members.

I'm sure that many aspects of the increasing anti-union mood have little or no basis in reality, and can't necessarily be blamed on the unions themselves. But it's not just a matter of labor not doing a good enough job in "getting its message across." In all honesty, the labor movement has not done much to deserve the support of the vast majority of working people who remain unorganized. Unfortunately, labor's inability to do so is likely inherent in the current configuration of the union movement, and drastic institutional reforms are probably necessary to rescue the labor movement from its increasingly bleak future. It's incredibly hard to figure out how to change this sorry state of affairs, but longtime labor activists Bob Fitch and Sam Gindin seem to offer some good ideas on how we might get started.

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Revolution at the Crossroads: Igniting the Socialist Resistance Against Trump

February 17, 2017 · $20.00 USD

Location: MayDay Space
Where: 176 St Nicholas Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237
When: Friday, February 17th at 6 PM to Sunday, February 19th to 4 PM

Political Context

This Presidents’ Day weekend, the Young Democratic Socialists will gather for our annual winter conference in New York City titled Revolution at the Crossroads: Igniting the Socialist Resistance Against Trump. We did not choose the name lightly. In doing so, we call for leftists to collectively confront Trump and Trumpism at every possible opportunity. When a Trump administration attempts mass deportations of undocumented workers, when it attempts to register Muslims or roll back worker protections, when it attempts to take away reproductive, LGTBQ, civil, or any other rights, then we must militantly resist to prevent such measures.

To succeed, this must be explicitly socialist resistance. With liberalism having repeatedly shown itself incapable of combating the far right, it is now the time for socialists to openly declare our place in building the mass, multi-racial, and working class movement necessary for defeating the Trump administration. In this struggle, millennials will play an outsized role. That is why this conference comes at such a critical time—together we must create spaces for democratic and strategic discussion, spaces to gain organizing skills, and most importantly, spaces to form networks of young radicals for the future struggles ahead. These spaces will only come together if socialists come together. Join us this Presidents Weekend and help ignite the movement to defeat the Trump administration, continue the political revolution, and build the socialist alternative.

Key Deadlines

  • January 8th: Travel Scholarship for Air Travel (for application see below)
  • January 15th: Travel Scholarship for Non-Air Travel (ex: bus, car, train, etc.)
  • February 3rd: Early Bird Registration Ends - Tickets prices go up from $5 to $10
  • February 10th: Free Housing - We have limited free housing. You need to first register, then you will be sent an application for free housing.

Apply for a travel scholarship here! (First Deadline January 8, 2017)

Check out the working program (subject to change)