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… recent polling from both Gallup and Pew reveal that Americans’ support for unions has risen of late, with the Pew poll showing 55% of the population holding a favorable view of unions, the highest level since before the financial crisis. This recent uptick in support for unions can be partially attributed to the slowly improving economy, as it is accompanied by similar increases in favorability for corporations. On the other hand, there are a few trends — namely income-growth stagnation and the fact that corporate owners are taking a larger share of the national income than they have in generations — that would lead one to expect increasing support for unions.

You mean people make an actual CONNECTION, like in their brainmeats, between having no power as workers and getting fucked over by their bosses? You mean that’s a thing we have done? ASTONISHING.

But be sure to give me some bad news, Business Week!

For many conservatives, the fall of labor represents a return to the natural economic order. University of Pennsylvania professor Michael Wachter, for example, argues that it was only through extraordinary intervention by the federal government into private business — including price controls and takeovers of entire industries – that unions were able to thrive during the Depression and into the second half of the 20th century. These interventions were justified at the time by the era’s fights against the Depression, fascism (World War II), Communism (the Korean War). But as those threats receded and economic prosperity grew, the case for federal involvement in private enterprise diminished — and the deregulation that followed spurred competition and led to the “natural” death of uncompetitive unionized firms.

As the creation of prosperity actually WORKED, people began to think maybe they didn’t need it to continue. Naturally. All by themselves. They were in no way influenced in this opinion by anyone.

The narrative on the left, by contrast, is that the decline in union participation is simply the result of the erosion of federal protection of collective bargaining, driven by Corporate America’s success at evading the labor protections that remain in place. The Center for Economic and Policy Research conducted a comparison of labor policy between Canada and the United States that supports this argument. While Canada and the U.S. are both developed, diverse economies with similar cultural attitudes, Canada had an overall union membership rate of 29.7% as of 2011, nearly three times that of the United States. Canada doesn’t have wartime price controls or the sort of regulation of industry common in America in the 1950s, yet it maintains union membership levels far higher than in the U.S.

On the right, we have the sound of one hand clapping for Free Market Tinkerbell. On the left, we have actual data, studies, and numbers. WHO CAN KNOW WHAT THE REAL TRUTH IS?

CEPR’s analysis suggests that today’s labor movement requires much smaller changes to the law than were necessary at the beginning of the Great Depression. On the other hand, despite their stagnant wages and shrinking share of the nation’s total income, workers today aren’t nearly as desperate as they were during the Depression. Federal programs like unemployment insurance, Social Security, food stamps, and Medicaid, help sustain workers’ standards of living in difficult times. That may explain why the movement was unable to force those changes through Congress during the first two years of the Obama Administration, when economic uncertainty and the Democratic power in Washington were at their height — and provides plenty of reason to doubt that those changes will be enacted anytime soon.

People aren’t really that screwed, so maybe they just don’t want unions enough. Things have to get WORSE. Like, “grandma’s memories of the Depression” worse, or maybe “slums of Calcutta” worse. Then maybe enough people’s inner desire will rise up and levitate the Capitol building or something. I mean, I don’t know how political decisions are made or influenced. I assume it’s by magic. I’m just spitballing here.

In other words, Americans may not dislike unions as much as they did two years ago, but that doesn’t mean the country is ready jump back in bed with them anytime soon.

They don’t LIKE unions more, they DISLIKE them less. But don’t get in bed with them. They steal all the blankets.


Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a writing and politics blog, with her partners Holden, Jude and Scout. She is the author of the books Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs (2011, Arcadia Publishing, with Mike Danahey) and It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal, about a great liberal journalism institution (2007, Heritage Books). She also edited the anthology “Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War” (2005, William, James & Co.) Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.