For decades, labour unions in the US have been on the decline. While they are widely credited with boosting safety standards and worker pay, many have received blame for wanting too much in times of a struggling economy. Unemployment is at nine per cent and people are clamouring for jobs, unionised or not. And their greatest political ally, the Democratic party, has taken its support for granted, weakening its pull on the strings of power in Washington, DC.
A new battle has emerged in 2011 as Republican governors have taken on public sector unions, in some cases stripping them of rights that have been in place for 50 years. It is part of a trend that is happening in key swing states and may weaken democratic voting strength in next year’s presidential election.
But organised labour has fought back hard. In Wisconsin, unions occupied the state capitol as 100,000 protesters took to the streets. In Ohio, voters overturned a law that was intended to greatly reduce the right that unions have in that state to bargain collectively.
Now as Occupy Wall Street galvanises Americans to take action against financial institutions and big corporations, labour unions have a new ally. But can organised labour harness the anger that everyday Americans are emitting or will this opportunity pass it by? Do labour unions still have the strength to organise or has their power waned to the point that they will no longer be a major player in American politics?