How Labor Can Be Big Again. (the Periodical Observer)

The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

How Labor Can Be Big Again. (the Periodical Observer)


"Organizing Power: The Prospects for an American Labor Movement" by Margaret Levi, in Perspectives on Politics (Mar. 2003), American Political Science Assn., 1527 New Hampshire Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036-1206.

Can organized labor recover its political mojo? "Big Labor" was once feared and courted by politicians because it represented more than 33 percent of the nation's wage and salary workers. Today organized labor is often regarded as just another special-interest group, representing, Levi notes, "only 13.5 percent of all wage and salary workers" and "only nine percent of private-sector wage and salary workers." (Unions had their highest absolute number of members, 20.2 million, in 1978; by 2001, that number had declined to 16.3 million.) Nonetheless, she is hopeful about the future of unions and believes that they are vital to democracy.

Labor needs "to become once again a social movement," argues Levi, a political scientist at the University of Washington. "In order for organized labor to play its critical role as a countervailing power within the American political system, there must be intensified organizing, internal democratization, increased electoral and lobbying clout, and social-movement unions willing to mobilize with others and, if necessary, on the streets."

A study last year, commissioned by the AFL-CIO, found that there has been a surge of support for union representation since 1984, when no more than 35 percent of nonunionized workers wanted a union. …

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