Thursday, March 25, 2010

Can the labor movement be saved?

As my conversation with Bill Padisak, Director of the Mahoning-Trumbull Central Labor Council, makes clear, the labor movement has lost ground over the last few decades.  Membership is down, to a great extent because the industries that once created so many union jobs have shrunk.  We still have United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers, and International Brotherhood of Electrical Worker locals in our community, but a growing proportion of unionized workers these days come from public entities like schools and police forces or from health care. 

That's a national trend, not just a local one.  John Russo writes this week in Working-Class Perspectives about how that's changing the role of organized labor in American politics, and Padisak's comments on why the Employee Free Choice Act hasn't yet been approved by Congress (and why it will likely be watered down when it finally does pass) illustrate Russo's point.  Locally, the labor movement remains active in politics, endorsing candidates and encouraging workers to vote, but the status of unions in the area has clearly declined, not just in terms of political clout but also in how people view them. 

You may be wondering why you should care, especially if you don't belong to a union and don't have the opportunity to join one.  You'll find some answers in an Australian video, "What have the unions ever done for us?"  Some of the terminology might not make sense, but the basic idea is clear:  the labor movement has improved the working conditions, pay, and benefits of workers across the board. 

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