This depressing statistic (Happy Labor Day!) from is presumably explained in large part by another number from the same poll: By a 56-34 margin, people say they believe that unions mostly hurt rather than mostly help workers who are not members of unions. That’s a belief we have to take seriously; it’s also, of course, empirically false.
Just one month ago, I wrote about a study by two sociologists finding that declining union membership contributes to income inequality, for nonunion as well as for union workers. Between 1973 and 2007, while union membership was shrinking, income inequality was growing by more than 40%. Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld conclude that “the decline of organized labor explains a fifth to a third of the growth in inequality—an effect comparable to the growing stratification of wages by education.”
ThinkProgress also has a very handy graph showing how union membership and the middle class share of the national income have declined together.
Yet the majority of people Gallup polled believe the opposite. They believe that unions don’t help non-members, perhaps that they help their own members at the expense of other workers. So on this Labor Day, the question to ask yourself is this:
What can I, knowing the facts here, do to spread the word that we’re all in this together? To make sure my friends and family understand that the people to look at when they wonder why they are struggling financially is not that unionized garbage collector or teacher down the street (and being vilified in the media for daring to have benefits and a pension), but the Wall Street executives who crashed the economy; the managers who decide that a healthy profit margin is not enough, that they require a giant profit margin and the way to achieve it is cheap labor; the Republican governors who hand out tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy while cutting pensions and benefits for garbage collectors and teachers; the Republican state legislators who would rather shut down a state government rather than increase taxes for the top 0.3% of earners?
As yourself that question, come up with some kind of answer, however prosaic or creative, and do it. Because it’s not just union members whose incomes and working conditions depend on our collective effort to turn around these Gallup numbers. It’s all of us who have to work for a living.