August 30, 2022

Labor Day 2022: Stronger In Solidarity

In the Spring of 1897, American Humorist Mark Twain was on a speaking tour of England. While there he became ill, with erroneous reports reaching America that he had died. When later asked about it, Twain is said to have replied “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”¬† As the United States prepares to celebrate Labor Day once again, the same could be said of organized labor in America, reports of our death are an exaggeration.

While it is true union membership passed through a period of decline, today we see a growing interest in organized labor from America’s workers. In the first half of this year, the National Labor Relations Board saw a 69% jump in the number of petitions filed by workers. 

The United States labor movement was born during the Industrial Revolution, as the captains of industry exploited workers to pad their pockets. Early attempts were made to organize workers, but it was the founding of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1886 that finally brought smaller unions together to build power through solidarity. Bringing workers together increased their power not only at the bargaining table, but also in the Halls of Congress.

Union membership was strongest around manufacturing. Then coal miners, steelworkers and industrial workers began to join unions to collectively bargain. By the 1940s, one in three American private sector workers belonged to a union. During and after World War II, American manufacturing boomed, adding more union members to the movement. Public sector employees began forming unions, as government workers learned the benefits of standing together.

Technology and foreign markets began impacting the numbers of workers in the manufacturing sector, and as a result the number of union members. As the economy of the United States shifted from manufacturing based to service based, the percentage of workers who belong to a union began to decline. Today 10.3% of America’s private sector workers belong to a union and approximately 30% of public sector workers belong to a union. However, the overall opinion of unions by the American public is on the upswing.

A recent gallop poll of Americans showed a 71% favorable opinion of labor unions. This is the highest approval rating since the 1960s. Over the past year, younger workers have shown a huge interest in unions, as organizing victories are being won in service industries everywhere. The victories at Amazon and Starbucks have added thousands of new union members. The UAW has added 100,000 new members through the organizing of graduate students at universities around the country.

There are plenty of reasons for workers to want to belong to a union. According to the Bureau of Labor Statics, union workers make 11.2% more than their non-union counterparts. On the average, 96% of union members have employer provided health care, compared to 69% of non-union workers. Accidents and fatalities in union represented workplaces are much lower than non-union represented workplaces, because of health and safety measures won in collective bargaining. While the monetary gains of belonging to a union are great, there is also the benefits of being part of a social movement.

As a result of the pandemic, the supply chain issues have exposed the dangers of depending on foreign production. Congress just passed a bill to return chip manufacturing to this country. Corporations are being persuaded to return a lot of the jobs they have shipped overseas. Our members produce the best products in the world and take pride in their communities.

This Labor Day I have great expectations for the labor movement. Labor unions in America have been strong for over 150 years and are continuing to grow. Together we must stand in solidarity with the members of not only the United Auto Workers, but all unions. Solidarity has always been the strength of the labor movement and nothing less than that will propel us into the future. As my friend, UAW President Emeritus Ron Gettelfinger says, “America needs her unions.” It is labor that has built the middle class of this country and only unions that can protect the workers going forward.

As we observe Labor Day, may we never forget the reason we celebrate. It is you, the worker who makes the economy go, you who provides for your family, and you who makes a difference in your community. Without workers, America would not function. On this Labor Day, we all should pledge to fight for each other and stand together in solidarity.

From Solidarity Forever by Utah Phillips

In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies, multiplied a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the union makes us strong.

On behalf of the entire Region 8 Leadership and Staff,

Happy Labor Day to all our members!

Mitchell Smith Region 8 Director




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