Let’s Check In On The Labor Movement!

The state of the Union is … strong?


In honor of Labor Day, here’s an interesting #longread about the current state of the labor movement, courtesy of n+1.

Who Works for the Workers?

It highlights some strengths and weaknesses, and also some peculiarities, of unions in general. For example!

labor has long been the only major movement on the left that is sustained entirely from within — relying not on voluntary donations but on the widespread, automatic financial participation of its members.

I never thought about that, but it’s as simple as it is true: without dues-paying members, unions can’t survive or expand. And the number of dues-paying members keeps shrinking, with dire consequences for all of us, not just those of us who are organized.

Decline of unions has hurt all workers: study

Wages have been flat for what feels like ages, right, even while costs spike? Well, they would be higher — for workers generally, not merely ones in unions — if the labor movement hadn’t fallen out of favor.

Average weekly earnings for nonunion private-sector male workers would have been 5%, or $52, higher in 2013 if the share of union workers had remained at 1979 levels, according to the study out Tuesday from the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute ahead of Labor Day. That’s tantamount to a loss of $2,704 annually for the average nonunion worker. …

The report argues the dwindling influence of unions is a significant but often ignored reason for wage stagnation, along with globalization, technological change and the slowdown in educational achievement gains.

The people suffering the most are men without a college degree.

the losses engendered by shrinking union participation are most pronounced for nonunion private-sector male workers who lack a Bachelor’s degree. Wages for that group would be 8% higher in 2013 if union membership had stayed at 1979 levels, translating into an annual wage loss of $3,016.

Only about 10% of men in the private sector and 6% of women are currently in unions, down pretty drastically from the 1970s. Those are anemic numbers. But the news isn’t entirely bad — at least not for white-collar and educated workers.

The Labor Prospect: Unions in 2016

More online journalists are unionizing.

After much delay, Huffington Post management has agreed to voluntary recognize its staffers’ vote to unionize, making it the largest digital media outlet to go union. The bargaining unit will reportedly consist of 262 employees. Organizing within digital newsrooms has been surging since Gawker staffers first announced their intent to unionize last May. Since then, Salon, the Guardian US, and Al-Jazeera, among others, have successfully unionized.

And there’s another professional sector where labor recently scored a victory: academia. Turns out graduate assistants are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore, “it” being their mistreatment at the hands of their ostensibly progressive, and often quite wealthy, employers. They want to organize, and the NLRB has confirmed that they have the right to do so.

Unions in the Ivory Tower

Graduate assistants have the same right to unionize as any other employee of a university, the NLRB has decreed.

The new ruling, issued in response to a petition by graduate students at Columbia University, found graduate assistants to be employees if they are paid to do jobs that are overseen by the university, even if they have other relationships to the institution.

The new ruling also notes that nothing in federal labor law indicates that university employees are to be treated any differently than other workers when it comes to the right to organize.

At Ivory Towers like Columbia and Harvard, the Marxist chickens have come home to roost. I APPROVE. Maybe now graduate assistants will vote to form unions, and maybe they can push for some much-needed change.

In recent decades, as tenure-track positions at universities have declined precipitously, teaching and research — the mainstay of universities — have increasingly been taken up by adjunct faculty members and graduate assistants, without commensurate increase in pay, status or career opportunities. On many campuses, teaching and research assistants are essentially low-paid, white-collar workers, typically earning around $30,000 a year, most of whom will never get tenure-track positions.

The question going forward is the extent to which those new unions will help improve working conditions in academic life.

And to what extent increased, and normalized, unionization will once again benefit all of us, whether we’re organized ourselves or not.

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