What led to the decline of unions?


It seems that trade unions are mostly seen in history books. Why and when exactly did they decline?

In: 8

This could be US-spesific. Unions are seen as communist factions and we all know how US is very commie-phobic. On the contrary Turkey has a strong union culture. Laborers, educators, doctors etc. almost every single group of workers have their unions and also chambers like İstanbul Chamber of Barbers.

You’re talking about US? In Europe I don’t see any decline. There’s sometimes more than a dozen trade unions in one company.

Outsourcing. It’s pretty easy to break a union by shipping the job somewhere else. The jobs that still have unions tend to be jobs that can’t be outsourced — teachers, police, firefighters, dock workers, iron workers, etc.

An well organized and funded campaign by business leaders over a period of decades to break the power and lower the high standard of living briefly enjoyed by American workers in the post war era. If you want a place to start your research you can look up the Taft Hartley Act.

In the US and Canada to a lesser degree , there is a ton of ton busting in the last 40 years. Partly through companies spending tons of money to break them.

[This is probably a better explanation than I have time for](https://youtu.be/Gk8dUXRpoy8)

Unions stealing from there own people. Ever wonder why pension funds dry up and dispear? Why pay some mob boss union crook to represent you, while there stealing your money

Part of the problem is that Unions get inherently political. They are supposed to be there to represent the interests of the workers. The situation starts when you appoint a shop steward and you now give power and influence to someone that didn’t have it before. Most shop stewards are good, overworked fellow workers – but there are some that start seeking to raise their personal profile by making sure that their union is the majority union and starting points of conflict with the employers just to raise their own importance. They seek to dominant the agenda at any union meetings and stop listening to what their members’ needs are.

Also to mention that you have to pay dues to be in the union.

There’s probably also some rub off that college graduates feel that they’re too good or too busy to be part of a union.

Definitely the biggest nail in the coffin though is the emergence of Generation Meh where people are not motivated to participate, greatly value their privacy and free time and avoid any extraneous contact with work colleagues.

Unions require the ability to restrict the labor pool in order to function.

In a ‘company town’, they can accomplish this by social means – the town itself is so centered around the business that it’s impossible to function socially without the union’s tacit approval.

In certain skilled labor positions, the union can accomplish this by seizing control of the certification pathways.

With government services, the union can accomplish this by financing politicians who favor restrictive labor practices.

However, in the absence of the ability to restrict the labor pool, unions have no power to compel employers to negotiate with them since it’s normally easier for the employers to just hire from the general labor pool.

Most of the decline in unions owes to the first factor I mentioned above: the decline of company towns. A combination of automation, outsourcing and a broadening of the economy as a whole meant that the sort of concentrated mass unskilled labor that drove the union movement in the early years no longer existed.

There’s a perfect chapter or two about this in the book: “Peoples-History-United-States” …Truly fascinating in that it reveals that police actively worked as union busters.


Frequently, Ronald Reagan firing striking air traffic controllers and hiring non union controllers is looked as a turning point in the way unions were viewed.

Unions increased the cost of production by proactively shifting profits from share holders to labor. In order to remain attractive to investors and retain profits for for shareholders, businesses simultaneously attempted to break unions while also turning to outsourcing or simply went out of business due to being less cost competitive than their foreign counterparts.

At the same time automation and computerization reduced the need for both skilled and unskilled labor. This decreased the size and power of unions even more, further reducing their power and efficacy.

Finally, the US shifted from a manufacturing economy to a service and information economy. Unions were largely absent in these spaces and held little appeal to for these workers, who were more mobile, educated, and sought after than their unionized counterparts for many years.

Ironically, the resultant shortage of skilled labor has in part reversed this trend. Supply and demand.

* A good economy makes unions (at least temporarily) less necessary, since companies have to work harder to attract and keep workers.
* Anti-union propaganda has a major effect, people get convinced unions are corrupt and evil.
* Anti-union laws and regulations make existing unions weaker and prevent new unions from forming.
* The global economy has allowed companies to outsource jobs to other countries easily for the past few decades. This gives companies a major advantage, they can always shut down a union shop and send the jobs overseas.