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Why Weaker Unions Mean Greater Inequality

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Does the failure to knock off Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in this week’s recall election spell doom for Big Labor? Maybe. It’s a safe bet other Republican governors will take heart from Walker’s win and go after unions in their states, although probably not this year. Plus, as a demonstration of the power of big corporate money in a post-Citizens United world to outmuscle unions in elections – on the air and on the ground – Tuesday’s outcome was unambiguous.

This is bad news for labor and for a Democratic Party dependent on union cash and manpower. But it’s bad new for the country, too, as a report from the Economic Policy Institute shows. EPI finds that inequality has corresponded to the rise and fall of unionization in the United States “to a remarkable extent.”  For instance, the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 led to both a massive increase in unionization and a massive decrease in inequality, because “the ‘countervailing power’ of labor unions … gave them the ability to raise wages and working standards for members and non-members alike.”  This correlation between unionization and relative equality has been consistent since.  If you think massive and growing inequality is a problem for our democracy, then here’s one more reason to lament Tuesday’s result.

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