Encyclopedia of American Parties, Campaigns, and Elections

By William C. Binning; Larry E. Esterly et al. | Go to book overview
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LABOR ORGANIZATIONS. Workers organize into unions to improve their compensation and working conditions. Unions attempt to achieve most of their objectives through collective bargaining. However, public policy is also very important to unions, and in order to achieve their objectives unions are very involved in politics. Labor unions played a key role in the New Deal coalition, and they are a central element of the Democratic Party. The major umbrella labor organization in the United States is the American Federation of Labor- Congress of Industrial Organizations ( AFL-CIO), which is a federation of most of the unions in the United States. The percentage of American workers that belong to unions has declined because of the change in the nature of work brought on by the development of the service economy, and the decline of the industrial economy. In 1997 the AFL-CIO claimed a membership of thirteen million. The percentage of the work force that belongs to a union has declined in recent decades. Today, only 10% of the private work force is unionized, and 14.5% of the total work force belongs to unions.

Labor support for Democratic candidates has also weakened in recent decades. President Reagan enjoyed considerable support from unionized blue-collar workers. The AFL-CIO, under its new president John J. Sweeney, vowed to conduct a major campaign to defeat the Republican Congress in 1996. It assigned 70 field representatives in key congressional districts, and assessed their members $1.80 per member to help support a $35 million media campaign directed against the Republican Congress. This campaign fund was beyond what the unions usually spend on elections. Unions donated $42.3 million from their PACs in 1994.

The major effort by the unions to defeat the Republican congress failed in 1996. Of the thirty-one freshman that labor targeted, only eleven were defeated.

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