Why Unions Are So Important — To Republicans

It’s still May Day here in California, so let’s finish off the day with Tom Edsall’s paean to the labor movement. Well—not paean exactly. More like a stern warning to Democrats that they have fucked up badly over the past 50 years while Republicans—who know precisely how important unions are—have conducted a scorched-earth campaign against American labor:

Even as many Democrats appear to accept organized labor’s decline, Republicans recognize the crucial importance of unions and are determined to gut them further….The relentless Republican assault on unions in the industrial belt states during the first half of this decade was an unquestionable success, politically speaking. It resulted in decreased Democratic turnout, a crucial drop in the bankrolling of Democratic candidates and, more subtly but no less significantly, a debilitating sense of powerlessness among union members.

….Three scholars have produced a detailed analysis of the political effects of right-to-work laws which have been enacted in 27 states….The authors found “strong causal evidence” for the demobilizing “effects of right-to-work laws — examining state and federal elections from 1980 through 2016.” For Democrats, the demobilization after passage of such laws is devastating. “County-level Democratic vote shares in Presidential elections fall by 3.5 percentage points relative to bordering counties.”

Let me repeat that: in places with right-to-work laws, which effectively shut down unions entirely, the Democratic vote share drops by 3.5 percentage points. With that many additional votes, Democrats would have won every presidential election since 1992. This is why destroying unions is so important to Republicans.

Of course, it’s also important to the rich. The decline of union membership precisely matches the decline of working-class income:

Without someone to fight for them, workers will keep losing income to the rich. As union membership declines, so does the working-class income share. And as the working-class income share declines, the top 1% income share goes up by almost exactly the same amount. It’s a vicious circle: the rich get richer and Republicans get to keep winning elections. We should do something about that.


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