Why I Think Unions Are Doomed

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Harold Meyerson asks today, “Are American unions history?” In the private sector, which is what really matters, I think the unfortunate answer is yes. Private sector union density has already declined to about 7 percent, which is well below the level at which unions have any serious political power, and I see no chance of that number rising significantly. In the simplest possible terms, here’s why I think that:

  1. Manufacturing accounts for only about 10 percent of the workers in America.
  2. Thus, the only way for private-sector unionization rates to rise substantially is to organize big swaths of the service sector.
  3. Under current law, it’s all but impossible to organize new industries.
  4. Except at the margins, current law won’t change as long as Republicans and conservative Democrats control at least 40 votes in the Senate.
  5. Republicans and conservative Democrats will control at least 40 votes in the Senate approximately forever.

I’m curious: wishful thinking aside, is there anything wrong with this argument? I’d very much like something to be wrong with it. But I can’t think of anything. Comments are open if you have any ideas.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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