Some union officials are now even calling for Romney to be forced to withdraw his nomination or leave the race entirely. If Obama is successful in forcing Romney to stop taking union money, the GOP will eventually have to turn to some combination of direct primary challenge and internal primaries. In that sense, Romney’s position, that the AFL-CIO’s efforts are a “disaster,” is correct. But that doesn’t mean that the unions would really abandon their efforts if they were forced to. But it certainly would prevent Obama in the near term from being able to claim, at least in the public conversation, that he is doing something to reverse the decline in auto working-class participation. We do not know when or if the public will come to this conclusion, but it’s unlikely to happen without the union mobilization being very strong.
Finally, even if it wasn’t, a union’s power is usually measured in the size and influence of unions in that particular industry. This is especially true of the automotive industry, where if the auto companies move production or distribution to Mexico or China, it’s a big deal. If there’s a massive loss of union power, it’s because companies, including the big ones like GM, Ford, and Chrysler, are unable or unwilling to take serious steps to rebuild unions even if they were willing to pay good wages. Even the more cautious companies might simply be able to shift production elsewhere. That’s certainly what’s happened to some extent with the auto parts supply chain.
The best way to avoid the negative economic impact of a union’s failure to win significant new unionization victories would be to encourage and support the union at large, but to a significant extent, only with the unions that have been, in the historical average, the strongest. But the fact that the unions in fact are strong doesn’t necessarily mean that the unions should be able, over time, to ignore their own self-interest. And the fact that most unions in every industry have had difficulty, over the last few decades, getting their members to switch from being in the non-union sector to unions is not what was supposed to be the outcome of organized labor’s post-war reform efforts. Given the power of the non-union sector today, and the decline in union memberships, there is no reason to think that this will change soon.
The fact that unions in the auto industry are stronger is not a guarantee of union success. The fact that most of the companies that can afford to keep the union structure are likely to try to cut costs and eliminate the part-time schedule that most of these workers have worked for decades also doesn’t rule out the worst-case scenario: the rise of a large market-based business model, or even an outright free enterprise enterprise. Of course, one can always say that unions should have tried much harder to attract such businesses and that union members would have gotten their benefits at a more competitive price. But that’s exactly what the data suggest would have happened if the union hadn’t lost its power in the last 30 years.
I should just say up front that I believe in unions, and so do many conservatives, but I think it will be a much more expensive job to have one group of people who think that unions are evil (or that they have to stay the way they are in order to avoid further erosion) trying to fight unions across a much larger swath of the political spectrum. To quote one of the more thoughtful contributors and commentators in my New Republic column on the auto crisis, “one can say today that the battle between the right and left is at its most important, in that it will determine (or not) how large a share of the American political pie the country will be left with.” And while I have no objection to unions having the largest political influence in the US (that, for example, is what happened with the women’s movement under FDR, and the labor movement under the Taft-Hartley Act) I think that they will be more effectively focused, and disciplined, on the right side of that divide than they were during their post-WWII revival. That’s the nature of politics: the left will get stronger and more organized as the election approaches, but the right will gain strength as the election approaches and it’s probably what most of us hoped will happen.
In the end, it’ll probably be conservatives and Republicans who have the greatest influence on the future of unions, not unions.
By John Guandolo A key part of the modern American tradition has been the principle of collective bargaining, which was first codified in the Bill of Rights in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and then expanded under the Wagner Act in 1947.
The labor movement has also been an important factor in modern America.
Most major industrial nations (except, I would note, China) have unionized their workers. Many liberal