Labor unions, which once constituted the most active force both in the Public as well as in Private Sector Enterprise, are on the decline for the last 25 years. Membership of unions in America has reduced from 21.4 percent in 1981 to only 12.5 percent, and in the private sector, the drop is from 19 percent to below 8 percent. This means nine laborers out of ten are not members of the union. The best example of how unions have lost their credibility was seen at the time when the debate was going on over social security reforms and when AFL-CIO was showing its tough resistance towards the proposals of President Bush. All solutions to resolve several issues were brought to a dead end by unions except for an increase in payroll taxes. Their argument surprised all as their direct call was for higher taxes that are paid exclusively for their labor interest.
The slow decline of General Motors along with inefficient labor contracts, which United Auto Workers signed for decades, along with the stories in media about the labor problems at General Motors and Delphi, were sure signs that union membership was on the downfall trend. AFL-CIO considered the most important and crucial labor union broke away, and lastly, the federal government began to implement many changes in labor regulations. The transparency in the functioning of the unions to remove corruption and bring accountability between the bosses and members by the labor department was considered as an attack on the unified action of the unions.
Unions were also stuck by the complex situation owing to the changes in the working structure of the private enterprises and also on the values on which their foundation was based. This could be best explained by Homer in Iliad, “There is a strength in the union even of very sorry men, but the opposite happened in the unions of today.” Even though unions had very strong men yet they were weak. Organized labor could easily bargain for more wages and additional benefits and privileges for its members and other laborers, but in 1950 with the technological growth and development, increase in the power of employers and lifetime employment for workers and increase in the number of skilled labor forces subsequently decreased the need for the labor unions. A higher skilled labor force with better benefits and privileges than before resisted themselves in joining and forming any union or requiring any representative. Moreover, with the growth in technology, demand for laborers was also reduced, and this means the strength of the labor force got minimized, leading to more individualized work. And the only place where the monopolistic power remained strong was in public sector enterprises.
When Karl Marx, with his publication of Das Kapital, dug the roots for the growth of the labor unions with the hope that capitalism would be rooted out and there would be an equal share of wages among workers but now when workers are earning equal share, the very foundation on which labor union was based uprooted to the ground. Now the labor unions are seen more fighting for protecting those jobs which are irrelevant today and which they wanted at the cost of future jobs. They are also seen fighting for the bailouts to again bring back into functioning inefficient corporations. They also want to fix minimum wages for the workers that would throw low-skilled workers out of the markets. According to Stanley Aronowitz, “Declining membership is due to the tendency of the workers to cater to the least needy rather than the neediest, the self-interested parochialism of union leaders, and misplaced attention on bargaining and grievance processing rather than organizing.” and Thomas J Donahue too said, “Improved employer-employee relationship, the fading appeal of the labor’s appeal of ‘big government politics’ and persistence claim of union corruption.”
As regards the public sector unions are concerned, it is a matter of great debate. But Linda N Edwards, in her book “The Future of Public Sector Unions: Stagnation or Growth,” predicted that public-sector union membership would neither grow nor reduce but will remain stagnant. In other words, it will continue to grow on the no-growth path, which it had been doing for the last ten years. She suggested that “this trend is neither novice nor provocative,” but after analyzing the socio-economic factors that could shape participation among unions, she concluded that factors that were favorable for the growth of the unions would be balanced when other developments would take place.
Particularly changes that would occur in the age distribution of the population would bring about the growth in the employment in public sectors and among the members in labor unions, but the structure of the labor force and the increase of the political pressure on the private services could restrain this growth. Still, union membership in the public sector enterprise would continue to see the positive sign as there are regulated partly by federal and partly by the state laws and the changes that occur in the legislation laws.