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Union Decline and Trump’s Rise

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One thing about the apocalypse: those who specialize in a particular part of it suddenly become high demand. I spoke to The Atlantic:

In Michigan, home to the influential United Auto Workers, Republican Governor Rick Snyder passed one such law in 2012 amid mass protests. In the first year after the law went into effect, union membership in the state fell by 11 percent (though it has inched up a bit since then). In 2015, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker pushed the same type of law through with similar results. “Republicans knew this would decimate unions, and now we can see the impact,” says Erik Loomis, a labor historian at the University of Rhode Island.

Back in the 1980s, unions represented 22 percent of private-sector workers, he says. Now they represent only about 8 percent. Loomis points to two major historical shifts that inflicted major damage to the labor movement: the drying up of manufacturing jobs in the late 1970s as factories moved overseas, and more recently, Republican-led movements to pass laws restricting unionization. This year, West Virginia became the 26th state to pass right-to-work laws, which went into effect this summer.

But it’s not just right-to-work laws that have weakened the labor movement. Unions had tried to stop the impacts of globalization and automatization, Loomis says, but “they were overwhelmed by a bipartisan belief in globalized trade and nobody has taken long-term unemployment and community decline seriously.” Neither Ohio nor Pennsylvania has passed right-to-work legislation, but their industries—and the chance that they would vote Democratic—have fallen nevertheless.

The election results in Nevada reflect a stark contrast. Hillary Clinton won the state with the help of the labor movement, and in particular, with the help of Culinary Union, which put on an aggressive campaign to mobilize its 57,000 members to vote for Democrats. Clinton won by a large margin in Nevada and so did the state’s Democratic Senate candidate, Catherine Cortez Masto. “The key difference is that they were able to organize working-class people to get their votes,” says Loomis. There is also another key difference: The Culinary Union is mostly made up of Latino workers in the hotel and service industry, a different demographic from the predominantly white factory workers in the Rust Belt who made up the base of the labor movement there and have since seen their jobs disappear.

The real dichotomy in this election is how different right to work states have different labor movements. The role the Culinary Union plays in Nevada is a real model for other right to work states. Not easy to emulate but important. I hope to have more on this soon. It would help if I wasn’t getting migraine headaches as a result of post-election anxiety and fear and thus losing days of work.

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