Economics

America Says Union No

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Popular approval of the existence of labor unions has plummeted 11 percent in just one year, according to the Gallup polling organization.

Just 48 out of every 100 of us answered "approve" when asked "Do you approve or disapprove of labor unions?" The 11-point drop is the largest year-to-year decline on record.

This question has been polled every year going back to 1936, when Nazi Germany militarized the Rhineland, the U.S. unemployment rate was 16.9 percent, and 72 percent of Americans approved of organized labor. In 1957, as the Soviet Union put the first satellite into orbit around planet Earth and Jimmy Hoffa led the Brotherhood of Teamsters out of the AFL-CIO's house of bondage, an all-time-high 75 percent of Americans looked for the union label.

Gallup's Lydia Saad alludes to the auto industry bailout as a factor in rising disapproval, but if that were the main factor turning people off, I'd expect to see a sharper decline in the number of respondents who say unions "mostly help" their own members (down slightly to 66 percent) and a roughly diametric surge in those who say unions "mostly hurt" (up slightly to 28 percent). Certainly the spectacle of the United Auto Workers' rigidity as Chrysler and G.M. collapsed -- especially stark as this was one of the union's rare concession-giving periods -- provided a pretty clear picture of organized labor as one of the culprits in massive job losses.

The article makes no mention of public sector unions. Though I've come to the sad conclusion that public sector unions are the only ones that make economic sense (because the customers' ability to flee is virtually nonexistent, the stream of revenue is relatively dependable regardless of worker productivity, and worker demands for a larger piece of the pie do not immediately endanger the organization), I expect a big reason for the drop will turn out to be popular disgust at the way public workers have retained exorbitant direct and deferred compensation packages during these hard times. In the large scope of things, I don't begrudge cops and groundskeepers and sewer workers their benefits. But begrudging other people their blessings is kind of the whole point of organized labor.