Friday, September 7, 2012

The Decline Of Labor Unions Is Not Inevitable

Dean Baker, in a piece for the Real-World Economics Review Blog, discusses why the decline of labor unions is not inevitable. Mr. Baker compares the U.S. to Canada in his article and reveals that much of the difference is institutional, which means that the decline of unions in the United States is not necessarily due to "natural" forces operating within the economy, but is instead the product of policies and laws that favor anti-union employers.

Mr. Baker's piece is important because it challenges the common wisdom in the United States, and not just among right-wingers. Even Michael Lind, who is perhaps as close to an old-style New Deal Democrat as you can find today, argued that the Left must think about a post-union future. Frankly, I am against the kind of detached, technocratic Left that is developing in the U.S. today. The mainstream American Left is the product of wealthy donors, just like the mainstream American Right, which explains why the national Democrats will fight hard for legal abortion and gay rights, but did little to help out in Wisconsin during the Walker recall. It is also why, as this informative post from the Economic Populist shows, the Democrats are only slightly better than the Republicans on economic issues.

What America really needs today is a full-blown workers' movement that seeps into the very sinews of life, complete with social clubs, picnics, parades, and mutual aid organizations. This will mean moving beyond the sporadic efforts of activists in movements like Occupy Wall Street. A revitalized labor movement will have to be based upon the very people who supposedly cling to their guns and Bibles because they are afraid of a bleak and unhappy future. In short, America needs a proper, independent labor movement detached from political partisanship, the dead end of identity politics, and the cultural insanity of the New Left.


  1. Hi John!

    I have a great deal of respect for Dr Baker and the CEPR; the more so since they don't do the knee-jerk 'that evil, evil Hugo Chavez' that more than a few people in GSPIA who ought to have known better were prone to. I also find myself rather bemused by the purportedly left-wing voices who seem to just not get that a technocratic world-built-anew may not be what the people protesting in the street actually want, even when they themselves point out that some pieces of the Blue Labour / Red Tory project may hold some intrinsic appeal.

    I also appreciate the fact that Canada is singled out as Dr Baker's centrepiece example. Even though he cites unions as one of the prime loci of 'progressive' change, I think it worth noting that Canada's legal system, governing institutions and default political philosophy are fundamentally conservative ('peace, order and good government') in ways in which that of the United States is not ('life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness') - these are just slogans, of course, but the power they carry in the political imaginations of each country is not to be understated.

    Anyway, great article! Thanks for posting!


  2. Hello Matthew,

    Thanks for the comments! Ultimately, I think North American unions are pretty conservative in the sense that they have not had important radical left-wing elements in a long time. Unfortunately, the downside to business unionism is bureaucratization, narrow-mindedness, and sometimes even corruption. The labor movement has a lot of problems, but it is still worth reforming. I don't want it to become Marxist in orientation, but it should become more populist and less attached to the Democratic Party.