Unions: Still Relevant? Or Relics?

Corporate and financial institutions that once seemed as solid as Mount Everest have turned out to be sand castles. Are we seeing the Twilight of the God-Tycoons? Or just a temporary eclipse?


Either way, are the shifting fortunes of corporate America an opportunity for unions to make a comeback? And should they? Are unions still relevant to U.S. working life?

Today fewer than 8 percent of U.S. workers belong to unions. A quarter century ago 17 percent of workers were unionized, and shortly after World War II about a third of workers belonged to unions.

Yet a majority of Americans favor unions. Gallup has polling numbers going back to 1936 (available on pollingreport.com; scroll down) showing consistent public approval for unions. For many years the part of the American public with favorable ideas about unions has hovered at around 60 percent, give or take. Approval for unions is 60 percent right now. Yet actual union membership has declined.

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