LaborTalk for January 24, 2011

Unions Lost 612,000 Members in 1010;
Our Leaders See No Cause for Alarm

By Harry Kelber


Membership in trade unions in the United States plunged from 12.3 percent in 2009 to 11.9 percent in 2010, representing a loss of 612,000 duespayers in one year, according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the critical private sector, there was also a depressing drop in union membership, from 7.2 percent in 2009 to 6.8 percent in 2010, the lowest in a century.

Top leaders of the AFL-CIO and Change-to-Win were aware of the continuous decline of union membership as far back as 2008, when 771,000 workers dropped out of unions.

But our leaders did nothing and proposed nothing that would stem the mass exodus. Will they continue to maintain their customary silence about our shrinking unions? Will they recognize that the severe losses in membership are a wake-up call to stem the mass exodus of unionists?

Our members who work in unionized companies are being compelled to make concessions in wages and benefits during negotiations, because unions are getting smaller and weaker. Unless there are some plans for recouping membership losses, the situation will get worse, not better.

If Our Members Donít Speak Up, Unions Will Die

If we judge by recent history, our top labor leader and the AFL-CIO Executive Council will react to the losses in members by maintaining their customary silence. They donít need to do anything. They feel their jobs and their six-figure salaries are secure, no matter what happens to the unions.

Our leaders donít believe in telling us whatís going on and how they are spending our dues money, because we donít ask them. If ten thousand of the AFL-CIOís 11.9 million members spoke up and asked to be involved in AFL-CIO activities, it might make a difference. But where are those ten thousand members with the courage to make their voices heard?

Letís look at the Great Depression. Did the CIO bring hundeds of thousands of workers (women and people of color) into unions without the active participation of the rank-and-file?

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In real life, you normally never get anything unless you strive for it. Itís the same with unions. If you want an honest union that respects your rights, you have to work for it.

Start thinking about what you and your co-workers can do to rebuild laborís membership and influence. ó Harry Kelber

LaborTalk will be posted here on January 28, 2011 and on our two web sites www.laboreducator.org and on www.laborsvoiceforchange.org.