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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Americans Waking Up to Need for Unions?

From Janie Valencia’s Huffpo article “Americans Are Becoming More Pro-Union: Public perception of unions took a hit during the Great Recession, but is now at its highest point in six years.”

Americans have grown more supportive of labor unions in recent years, according to a Gallup poll released Monday. The poll found that nearly 6 in 10 Americans say they approve of labor unions, the highest approval rate since 2008.
Gallup has been surveying American opinion on organized labor since 1936. Approval has jumped five percentage points in the last year alone, and 10 percentage points since 2008. Desire for more union influence is also up. Thirty-seven percent of Americans say they want unions to have more influence, while 35 percent want to see unions wield less influence. By comparison, in 2009, only 25 percent of respondents said they wanted more influence, and 42 percent wanted less.

The trend in public approval of unions as reflected in Gallup’s polling since 1936 is interesting, with a very steep uptick during the last year or so:
gallup unions.png
“Respondents who identified as Democrats were almost twice as likely as self-identified Republicans to approve of labor unions, the poll found, and more than three times more likely to want unions to have more influence,” adds Valencia. “Millennials, defined as those between the ages of 18 and 34, are more pro-union than any other age group.”
Note that the peak of trade union approval occurred during the Eisenhower administration. Ike had his share of struggles with organized labor. But, unlike the current generation of Republican leaders, Ike had a low tolerance for all-out union-bashing:

I have no use for those — regardless of their political party — who hold some foolish dream of spinning the clock back to days when unorganized labor was a huddled, almost helpless mass…Today in America unions have a secure place in our industrial life. Only a handful of unreconstructed reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions. Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice.

It may be a long time before we see another Republican leader who recognizes the importance of unions. Yet, the hope is that Americans are beginning to realize that a thriving, or even a stable middle class, requires a stronger labor movement, and conversely, inequality will only widen without a revival of trade union membership.
It will likely take a Democratic landslide to enact legislation to help restore labor strength to the point where the majority of working families can have a sense of economic security and access to affordable higher education for their children. it appears that increasing numbers of voters are ready to hear that message.

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