The headlines report that union membership among American workers is now at the lowest rate in almost a century.

That’s bad news for workers.

And bad news for democracy.

Who says? The U.S. State Department, which in its efforts to promote democracy around the world has frequently noted the link between strong, independent trade unions and a robust democracy.

As a recent State Department report noted: “Trade unions play an important role in addressing poverty and building up democratic participation. The primary goal of unions is to promote the economic well-being of their members, but unions also engage in the democratic process in order to achieve their goals and thus are natural promoters of democracy in society. Trade unions protect human rights and promote public accountability. Where free unions are allowed to operate, political extremism is less likely to flourish.” Indeed, the report concluded, “free trade unions help to provide the underpinning for economic growth and democracy by contributing to the emergence of a stable, fairly paid, working middle-class.”

The report was talking about other countries.

But it makes sense to practice what we preach.

There is nothing to celebrate in the decline of union membership in the United States. It is bad news for workers, bad news for economic growth, and bad news for American democracy.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

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(83) comments

Billie

in totalitarian and facist countries organizing workers is very important to democracy and overthrowing those types of governements. In Democracy's, with thousands of pages of laws protecting workers, not so important. Think about it.....union workers make up less than 16% (give or take) of the worker force. Only in Madison (and other G-towns) is that a significant part of the middle class.

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Retired PE

This is a typical American thing and statement - what's good for the rest of the world is NOT good for us! Do as we say and not as we do! While a strong union supporter, unions in all forms (public or private) have done a lousy job over the years pointing out to a naive public, especially in WI, the good that unions do for the workers in all areas. The general public only perceives unions as advocating for higher pay and better financial benefits; thus Walker had such an easy time portraying unionized public employees as the "haves" while non-unionized WI workers were the "have nots." Unions do so much more than just advocate for higher pay - so very much more - that is never realized. Read the other headline on today's site about the many low paid employees who have to go to work sick because they cannot financially afford to stay home.

PapaLorax

Please inform us of all the things current unions are doing besides advocating for higher pay?

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AdiosScott
AdiosScott

I agree that the unions did a lousy job of educating a naive public on the benefits of unions. But did our education system fail us too? I can't remember learning much about the history of labor or need for unions involvement when I was being taught American history in school. Surely they must have covered it to some degree, but I can't recall anything in particular.

gkmoynihan
gkmoynihan

Retired and Adios can't inform we "naive" citizens of the benefits of union labor aside from constantly demanding more pay for less work because there really isn't anything else. All they can do is bring up labor battles of of the distant past (while conveniently leaving out organized labor's willing collaboration with communists and organized crime).

Having won these battles labor unions have turned into nothing more than scientology for blue collared people; organizations that hide behind idealistic but empty rhetoric in order collect money from gullible people, often resort to thuggery when their revenue streams are compromised and are privately resigned to permanent decline because they know it's only a matter of time before people will figure out they have nothing of value to offer anyone. Even this "paper" wised up when they dumped their union.

moyboy25

More great news for the average working stiff looking to reduce his exposure to excessive union taxes on his family and being forced to work with protected dead beat employees. This is especially good news regarding the reduction of public sector unionized employees leaving union ranks and union fat cats worrying about retaining their CEO type wage and benefit packages. Public employees have become the new 1% club in Wisconsin. Public unions received the ultimate smack down in the Walker election #2 after rioting like out of control thugs at our capitol exposed for the greedy entitlement class they have become. Cry babies. Now its pay back time by Wisconsin voters. Time for public employees to Pay Your Fair Share. Time for private sector voters to take our state back. Privatize. Bye bye now.

Retired PE

Moyboy25, if you have some delusion that public employees in this state are the new 1 percenters, then you have no clue what public employees do. Give me a break! Why don't you talk with a few public employees in education, social services, county departments, etc. and find out what they do, how many hours they spend doing it, and the grief that they have to endure from people/customers such as yourself. Think about your local county employees/public workers that were up before the crack of dawn cleaning off your streets and roads from WI's Wednesday snow storm while you were safely tucked in your warm bed just EXPECTING the roads & streets to be cleaned & safe before you went out. That's public service that no one seems to care about but JUST expects to happen.

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@Retired PE Fiction: No supporting evidence

witness2012

FoF, you NEVER give supporting evidence for any of your evaluations. Pot, meet kettle.

I think retiredPE made his point very clearly and did point out the diversity of relatively low paid employees who are considered "public", state, county, and city.

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@moyboy25: Fiction + troll bonus + propaganda bonus

array1

Boo public employees!! Yay private employees!!

happydays

and what will obama do without those unions - wouldn't have obamacare without them - and now even union members are say WTF did we just get into when they saw the costs they are going to have to pay for it -

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@happydays: Fiction: No supporting evidence

skippie

Spooky, I promise the going rate is way over $0.00 (the slave labor rate). I also promise you are a liar too as even you are not stupid enough to think that the Chinese actually are making zero for their work efforts. Fact is boy, you have been caught and exposed. Now go back to doing what liberals do best: lie and name call.

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@skippie: Fiction + troll bonus + propaganda bonus

skippie

Knitting, so if unions are not about higher wages, why are the lefties here saying that without unions wages will decrease? As for safety, the government started watching out for workers years ago with OSHA and the like.

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@skippie: Possibly true

skippie

Spooky, Please stop lying about the slave labor thing. Why do liberals so often lie about things to make their point. If you will lie about this what will you not lie about?

spooky tooth

tell me skippie, what's the going rate for a chinese factory worker? And why are you so annoying? Do you have any friends? I can't imagine anyone that could stand to be around you for more than a minute, not eve your mother.

spooky tooth

With union membership at its lowest in a 100 years the concentration of wealth is at its highest in 100 years.

When unions membership was at it's highest the middle class income was at its highest, regardless if you belonged or not. With the decline of union membership, middle class income declined at the same rate.

Conservatives can you see now why the Koch brothers, the Chamber of Commerce and the WMC are buying governors?

196ski
196ski

Correlation does not mean causation.
You have to take into consideration US manufacturing capacity during that time, after the second world war ours was the only one left intact, as well as the semi skilled world labor market where again we dominated.

The world has caught up and it is not possible to force wages upward. Higher wages mean more skills and higher productivity. Nothing to do with the Koch's or the Chamber of Commerce.

spooky tooth

You have to take into consideration bad international trade agreements that allow US corporations to move production to slave labor countries and bring their goods back into the US without the VAT tax. Competing countries in Europe, Japan and China all have the VAT tax. This has everything to do with the Chamber of Commerce and people like the Koch brothers. They use their money to buy politicians, get sweet deals for themselves and screw the rest of us.

Is there any country doing better than Germany, where unions make up roughly 31% of the work force?

If we continue to let the top 1% (citizens united) buy politicians and control all the money the US will become a 3rd world country, like most of Central and South America.

tomtom33
tomtom33

Most international trade agreements are far from bad. More importantly international trade, for the most part, is a win-win.

Germany has done well. And German unions bear little resemblance to those that exist in the US. They do not insist on featherbedding work rules that add cost without benefit. They understand competition and work with business to be as competitive as they can.

Concentration of wealth is a natural function of life. When you spend less than you earn, the remainder can be invested to produce more income. You see the largest concentration of wealth in the socialist countries. The party members have everything. The rest have nothing. Ever been to Cuba? I have.

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moyboy25

Karl would be proud of your comments. Time for public sector employees to Pay Your Fair Share and stop feeling so entitled. Public sector employees have become the new 1% club in Wisconsin. Interesting how public sector employees are jumping ship like a bunch of rats. Loyalty was presumed but in the end we find out it was only because of forced union membership. Given the free choice workers have voted by walking away from unions, their high union tax and heavy handed control of workers.

Union brass is no different than the management they whine about. Ask any employee of a union about workers rights.

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@moyboy25: Fiction + troll bonus + propaganda bonus

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GOOD DOG HAPPY MAN
GOOD DOG HAPPY MAN

Declining union membership is good for democracy. But, bad for DemonRat Party revenues.

Like a business model, when you fail, you should reorganize, retool and produce a product that people would want to buy. We don't need any more big fat-cat, union-boss thugbuggerists bellied up to public trough.

Public sector unions should realize that they, too, are working on borrowed time. It's time to choose to either, sharpen your skills and improve your product, or, go extinct.

....... Choose wisely.

"Squeezy", the budget python has left Illinois' public sector-union defined pension entitlements bankrupt their state. Thanks to Gov. Walker, it won't happen here.

Good Dog, Happy Man.

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@GOOD DOG, HAPPY MAN: Fiction + troll bonus + propaganda bonus

Norwood44

I have worked in union shops for over twenty years. It has been my experience that unions stifle innovation and competition and provide job security for many people who don't deserve it and who actually abuse the protection. There are certainly good union workers, but the modern union model too often protects injustice rather than corrects it. Public unions are a different matter altogether, as it is the government. Public unions have done little or nothing for trade unions, yet they have wrapped themselves in the garments of the coal miners. To no avail.

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Norwood44

Not questionable. You can't question my experience or personal opinions. You can question facts. So, prove that gov unions have helped private sector unions, when their ranks have dwindled for forty years.

kriley

SHAKE the difference is that the government came after the trade unions in Europe. The good clueless pompous liberals in Dane county destroyed them here.

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Fiction: No supporting evidence

kriley

SHAKE
Built entirely by a 100% non union workforce. NO collective bargaining rights. If you drive a Camry are you saying Scott Walker was right? It's the same thing, just a different ox being gored. If you state workers think you are suffering, go to any large Michigan city and observe. It's so frustrating to see you sunshine patriots proudly driving around with your blue fists on the back of you asian cars. As Pogo said: we have met the enemy and the enemy is us.

Shake
Shake

My current vehicle is a Ford. My last one was a Dodge. The one before that was a Chevy. Maybe you shouldn't throw those characterizations around so freely.
Oh, and I don't work for the state. I'm a businessman.

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@kriley: Fiction + propaganda bonus

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PapaLorax

I don't think their attack was "people now can choose whether to belong or not"...but maybe I have that wrong.

skippie

Unfortunately liberals, once again, the facts simply do not support your whining. Right to work states actually compensate their workers do they have more buying power than states that force unions on people.

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epic

I'd say unions are still doing pretty good. The United Auto Workers union has a large ownership chunk of General Motors and union officers sit on the board. Contrast that with mere bondholders that were left swinging in the wind when the Obama administration decided to renege on bond pledges and give the unions an ownership stake. Seventy or eighty bucks an hour (with benefits) is not chump change. Pity that many of these firms will eventually go bankrupt or continue to bleed while being pumped up with taxpayer funds. Yes, Madison Intelligentsia, keep buying those lovely foreign labeled cars built in South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Mexico, etc. You have probably found that the build quality and price are better on those models in spite of the non-union labor.

Fartinthewind
Fartinthewind

Check your facts epic. The labor cost for non unionized auto plants and union auto plants is very similar. The difference is in legacy costs and much of those legacy costs could have been avoided if they had been properly funded in the first place.

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@epic: Fiction + propaganda bonus

Dode
Dode

If you think Congress is a dysfunctional entity, unions are even more so. The heads don't listen to the folks they are supposed to represent. They love their benefits and make sure we don't enjoy the same. They claim the companies that provide jobs for Americans are the evil ones. Declining union membership is good for democracy. Once again, CT is 180 degrees off base.

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@Dode: Fiction + propaganda bonus

PapaLorax

"independent trade unions"

The Labor Unions in the US gave up and hint of independence years ago. They were no longer fighting for their members, worker safety, etc...they were simply a massive political machine that fueled the democratic party. To that end, they weren't even fighting for democracy...they would have been happy with one party rule.

The decline of union membership is tied to one simple change -- giving workers the option of joining or not. When given that option, union membership falls.

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Fiction: Omits alternative causes

whereslarry

Union membership has declined in the private sector for 30 years while public unions have grown. Why has membership declined in the private sector? How many of these once union employed industries disappeared? The last 30 years has seen the rise of the global economy and with it exploitation of cheap labor. When a chinese worker can do the same job once done by a unionized employee for 1/10 the cost why would any business carry the added costs
of union workers? In the global economy and in consumer consumption driven countries like the US low price is the bottom line. Without low prices the companies cannot compete. To say that the decline in unions has hurt our democracy is lamenting the loss of donations to the democratic party.

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toobad

So less mob rule is bad for democracy. That's an interesting twist.

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@toobad: Fiction + propaganda bonus

gkmoynihan
gkmoynihan

"But it makes sense to practice what we preach."

Huh. Wasn't the CapTimes once a union company?


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Nav

Who, in their right mind, thinks that an employer is not going to pay as little as possible to its employees if there are no unions. We are already seeing this. There is a direct correlation between shrinking union memberships and a shrinking middle class. Why are people not making this connection?

The Republicans, stooges of businesses, have successfully portrayed unions as some self serving entities that do not care about the employees. That is so NOT true! Today we take for granted the many benefits we have at work because the unions fought for them.

Quit listening to those who demonize unions. Support the Unions!

Fartinthewind
Fartinthewind

Nav:

There is a good reason that people aren't making the connection between declining union membership and a shrinking middle class. For the last 30 years unions have been wandering in a wilderness of their own making.

In stead of fighting for those who have least, unions ALLOWED themselves to be characterized and portrayed as defending the indefensible. To this end unions have lost a profound public relations battle even though they occupied the high ground. To continue with a military analogy, today's union leaders have a lot in common with the generals responsible for prosecuting the early days of the Union's struggle against the confederate armies.

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Questionable: Unsupported personal opinion

toobad

If you spent some time actually educating yourself you would find that the middle class had been shrinking (and the rich have been getting richer) ever since Nixon removed gold backing from the USD. Do you want to go back to sound money??

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tomtom33
tomtom33

The market sets compensation regardless of unions. If the unions stray too far from market rates, their jobs disappear. Feel free to support whoever you like.

Fartinthewind
Fartinthewind

A well functioning market would set compensation rates. Unfortunately our current market is so distorted that ain't happening.

tomtom33
tomtom33

Government has distorted our markets. However, billions of consumer choices are still vastly more efficient than unions.

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Fiction: Unsupported by evidence

Stopthespending

As someone who hires people in the private sector, employers do not "pay as little as possible"; in order to be successful as a business you have to pay your employees wages based on the job market for the skills required to meet your customers' needs.

The only purpose of a union is to try and get above market wages in exchange for paying dues. In the short term this can be successful but in the long term it isn't if the company's cost structure is now uncompetitive in the world economy. Eventually you go out of business or bankrupt.....GM is one good example of this.

knittingnancy

Unions were also set up to keep the workplace safe for workers. You may be a very responsible employer who knows this to be the best practice, but there are many in the US who do not care and who endanger employees as long as they can get cheap labor. Unions are not just about wages, infact, they never were. This is just another fabrication of big business.

tomtom33
tomtom33

That was a union goal in the early 1900's. Today we have a plethora of State and federal laws plus a relatively efficient marketplace. Unions no longer serve that purpose to any great extent.

Stopthespending

We already have this in place; it's called OSHA.

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Fiction: Does not provide alternative reasons for GM bankruptcy

Stopthespending

There were many reasons for the bankruptcy; excessive labor and pension costs were a contributing factor. Because it wasn't the only reason doesn't make it "fiction"

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kriley

How true. Now it's time for all you hypocritical traitors to peel your Obama and recall Walker stickers off your Hondas, Toyotas, Subarus, etc and go buy a union built Ford or GM.

Shake
Shake

TOYOTA CAMRY RECOGNIZED AS…’MOST AMERICAN MADE’ CAR ON THE ROAD

knittingnancy

And all of the profits go back to Japan. The US should put high taxes on inported goods but the ripoff republican businesses prefer to grab the profits and forget the country they were born in. When you buy foreign goods, you join in killing democracy in your own country.

tomtom33
tomtom33

Good idea. That's what FDR did. Those actions triggered a tariff war that prolonged the depression. We are in a world economy and have been for a very long time.

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@ tomtom: Questionable - No evidence provided to support FDR assertion

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Fiction + propaganda bonus

Liberalsmakesense

Declining union membership is bad for democracy but it is even worse for the middle class. Look what has happened to the middle class as Unions have declined. It has shrunk significantly.

Who is happy about declining union memberships? Employers. Without unions, they can exploit the workers, pay them less than fair wages so that they can make excessive profits.

Is there anyone on here who disagrees with the concept that workers should have some say about their work conditions?

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