What Unions No Longer Do

By: Jake Rosenfeld

288 pp


From workers' wages to presidential elections, labor unions once exerted tremendous clout in American life. In the immediate post-World War II era, one in three workers belonged to a union. The fraction now is close to one in five, and just one in ten in the private sector. The only thing big about Big Labor today is the scope of its problems. While many studies have explained the causes of this decline, What Unions No Longer Do shows the broad repercussions of labor's collapse for the American economy and polity. Organized labor was not just a minor player during the middle decades of the twentieth century, Jake Rosenfeld asserts. For generations it was the core institution fighting for economic and political equality in the United States. Unions leveraged their bargaining power to deliver benefits to workers while shaping cultural understandings of fairness in the workplace. What Unions No Longer Do details the consequences of labor's decline, including poorer working conditions, less economic assimilation for immigrants, and wage stagnation among African-Americans. In short, unions are no longer instrumental in combating inequality in our economy and our politics, resulting in a sharp decline in the prospects of American workers and their families.

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1. The Collapse of Organized Labor in the United States

2. Government Is Not the Answer: Why Public Sector Unionism Won’t Rescue the Labor Movement

3. Wages and Inequality

4. Strikes

5. The Timing Was Terrible: Deunionization and Racial Inequality

6. Justice for Janitors? Deunionization and Hispanic Economic Assimilation

7. The Ballot Box: Deunionization and Political Participation

8. The Past as Prologue: The Labor Movement Pre–New Deal, Today, and Tomorrow

Appendix: Data and Methods