Home > Uncategorized > U.S. union membership and top 10% income share 1917-2014

U.S. union membership and top 10% income share 1917-2014


Source: Economic Policy Institute

  1. March 3, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    So is the question here “How did union membership increase so markedly after the Depression?” And an allied question, “Has the era of labor power been left behind forever?” And allied too, “Is there any power countervailing that of the 10%?”

    • March 3, 2018 at 10:14 pm

      “How did union membership increase so markedly after the Depression?”

      Along with The Great Depression came The Great Economics Lesson. The most Laissez Faire administration in history was in power from 1921-1933 (1931-1933 was actually transition). After everybody in the country understood what Laissez Faire leads to based on first hand knowledge that couldn’t be “taught away” with propaganda. As a result, FDR candidates were elected from the highest to the lowest ballot levels and we had a progressive wave that ushered in 10% growth per year from 1933-1945. This dropped to 3%-5% with the war debt and Eisenhower, then we dropped to 2%-3% with union crushing of the 1970s and Reagan, and then we dropped to 1%-2% in the naughts under the next wave of supply-side “reform”.

      The metaphor I like is that of an LRC Timer circuit from EE. Ever since the explosive release of the Great Depression, charge (propaganda) has slowly been accumulating back into the system and we are nearing another possible release point depending on the exact results of politics.

  2. March 4, 2018 at 2:07 am

    Only the power of organized people can restrain the power of organized money.

  3. Edward Ross
    March 4, 2018 at 8:17 pm

    reply to economicrel March 4, 2018 at 2:o7am
    “only the power of organized people can restrain people”

  4. Edward Ross
    March 4, 2018 at 8:29 pm

    pressed the wrong button re unions although they were and still are an important defence against extreme capitalist exploitation of the worker however they need to become more democratic and have secrete ballot for important issues. Instead of voting with a show of hands where the sheep follow one and other. This also leads to the public could contribute to the reform of economics if they were organised and led by concerned knowledgeable people.

  5. March 4, 2018 at 8:30 pm

    Of course one’s thinking here is shaped by one’s sense of history. On the one hand are equilibrating pendulum swings, on the other fundamental changes. More and more I tilt towards the second – perhaps ultimately shaped by long-cycle demographics rather than by short-cycle politics. OK, in feudal times property was narrowly held. When the 1% seize the political machinery that places the non-1%’s property at risk and becomes a curious mode of ‘nationalizing’ it – where ‘nation’ is the 1%’s hegemony. In which circumstance no mode of ‘organized people’ is much able to reshape the accelerating concentration of money/power/ideology.

  6. March 6, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    The only real surprise about the decline in union membership is that it didn’t happen sooner. The earliest American labor organizations were weak. They could not withstand the impacts of the panics of 1837,1857, and 1873. But there was little doubt that others would replace them. The poor pay, and working condition and hours, and outright abuse in American factories and industrial shops was too much for any worker to bear or correct alone. On top of this economic inequality was staggeringly high. I estimate the GINI for 1890 America was 0.9 or higher. This changed with the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor (NOKL), organized in 1869 and its early president, Terence V. Powderly, a Scranton, Pennsylvania machinist. NOKL lead the strike against Jay Gould’s Missouri Pacific Railroad. in 1885 strikers forced Gould to rescind a wage cut and rehire hundreds of union men he had fired. Success here raised the NOKL’s standing so high that before the year was out membership had grown from about 100,000 to more than 700,000. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) focused more on forcing business to engage in collective bargaining with member unions on such everyday issues as wages, hours, and working conditions. An essential goal was the establishment of the “closed shop”– that is, a shop that would agree to employ only members of AFL affiliates. The responses of industrialists were swift, brutal, and violent. Strikers were met by armed police, the military, or both, or in some case private company police. Union leaders were jailed (often on charges of sedition) or murdered. The unions would likely have collapsed under the pressure but for a change in the political atmosphere. Inspired by John Dewey, T. Roosevelt, and many local politicians the Progressive movement swept the country. The 8-hour day was passed, unions were legalized, collective bargaining was protected by law, overtime pay was put in place, along with many other changes favoring workers. Most persisted with support from FDR and the Democratic Party that controlled the government after WWII. For over 150 years conservative politicians and commentators cast much of the blame for the nation’s economic woes on workers, whom they portrayed as selfish and overpaid, and on unions, which they accused of corruption (many were corrupt, but not all corporate hands were clean either). As unions began to face new problems in the 1960s that neither they nor the government could understand let alone resolve, the labor movement was an easy target for these politicians and commentators. A conservative political wind swept over the nation beginning with Richard Nixon’s presidency, with conservative politicians promising to solve these new problems. A task they’ve still not accomplished. The question before us now regarding the labor movement and unions is can they protect themselves or rebuild, or even understand how to do that after nearly 50 years of conservative attacks and negative propaganda. Two entire generations have at least to some extent been indoctrinated to fear and hate labor and unions. A self-destructive notion if ever there was one!

  7. Helen Sakho
    July 30, 2018 at 1:51 am

    Absolutely right, please review what happened to the leaders of the miner’s union (for example, Arthur Scar-gill, who he was and his father before him) and how he was tormented disgracefully. Or the National Union of Welsh miners, and how whole communities were literally starved to death by the Iron Lady, who was not for turning! Why would she ever take a “U” turn? She died in peace in a luxury setting and lived long enough to forget all that had been destroyed behind her, including the withdrawal of free education, and school meals from the poorest of children in the UK, and an economic model based on a simple formula “public bad, private good”. I am sure everyone here is old enough to remember her “right to buy” policies when she auctioned council estates at mortgages that led the disillusioned poor believe they had become “masters of their own castles”.
    Economic realities should be problematised and taught in more balanced curriculum everywhere.

    • August 1, 2018 at 8:43 am

      Helen, this isn’t about teaching. This is about doing. Working in the US is a dirty and dangerous game. No worker ever wins without help. Unions always help workers. The government (federal and local) sometimes helps. Sometimes not. Until the US again is more worker-centric and ensures a high quality of life for all its citizens, unions are not just necessary they are essential. In that quest I don’t believe there is any actions that go too far.

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