Some interesting news on the labor front as it seems that the proportion of the work force that belongs to a union went up last year for the first time since the BLS started tracking this stuff in the early 1980s — from 12 percent of the workforce to 12.1 percent. Ezra Klein comments:
Manufacturing, amazingly, has been so decimated that your average manufacturing employee is less likely to be unionized than another American worker picked at random. Given that the manufacturing sector was once the backbone of the union economy, that’s real testament to how ruined the old order is, and how impressive even these small gains are. Now, one year does not a trend make, and the uptick is unquestionably minor. But still: Gains for the first time in 25 years. And centered around the fast-growing, immigrant-heavy economies of the West.
The actual numbers involved here are, clearly, very small. But it’s worth saying something about momentum. For a long time now, some heavily unionized sectors of the economy have been losing members. In more recent years, though, you’ve also seen quite a lot of vibrancy on the union front with a large amount of service-sector organizing. That, however, has tended to be masked by the continued decline of the manufacturing sector. What we seem to be seeing, however, is that the two lines are crossing — manufacturing has declined so much already that continued declines no longer swamp gains in other sectors. If we have political change in 2009 that brings about labor law reform, pro-labor appointments to regulatory bodies and judgships, and perhaps even dares to use the bully-pulpit to make the case for union membership one can easily imagine seeing these trends continue.