The decline of the unions
We’ve heard plenty about demographic trends that doom the GOP — for example, the increasing size of the Hispanic electorate and the Blue-ing of the suburbs. Those certainly have their effect and require attention, but it’s important to note there are countervailing trends as well. Such trends have, in some states, kept Republicans remotely in the game against long odds. In others (such as West Virginia, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana, among others) they have helped the GOP attain majority status.
Last week’s release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ union membership stats brings one of these trends to mind. Labor unions have historically formed a key portion of the Democrats’ electoral coalition, and an outsized one in terms of money and campaign infrastructure.
Whatever other factors strengthen the Democrats, the gradual disappearance of organized labor entails a structurally weaker Democratic Party than would exist otherwise. If Democrats think of the GOP as a white party that is aging and dying off, Republicans can point to the Democrats’ excessive reliance on a coalition partner that is dying even more rapidly.
The most-noticed stat on Friday was probably that private-sector union membership rose just slightly nationwide in 2013 (by 281,000 and from 6.6 to 6.7 percent), defying (probably temporarily) a very long downward trend. Even here, the increase is not uniform. The solidly Democratic states of New York, Illinois and California account for half the numerical gain.
Moreover, the more important trend in political terms may be the downward slide in public-sector unionization, a more recent trend that continued apace in 2013. The number of unionized public employees reached its all-time high in 2009, and has since declined by about 700,000 to 7.2 million.
The accompanying decline in union influence over politics is one of the long-term trends to watch, especially in politically competitive states. On the whole, only 11.3 percent of American workers now belong to unions, and in several politically competitive states, their ranks have been thinning rapidly since the turn of the century. The chart below, based on BLS data from UnionStats.com, shows a handful of bona fide swing states with historically strong labor movements. Each state’s unionized share of all workers has declined by more than 20 percent since 2000. (Note that the chart goes back to 1964).There is more including a graph that shows the decline in the swing states. Then there is Wisconsin where the public sector unions are in free fall since the Walker reforms were put in place. Those ae reforms that are needed throughout the country, as well as a push for right to work laws.
An important thing to note here is most of these are not Right to Work states — even in Michigan, the new Right to Work law will have little effect until existing contracts begin to expire.