In post-WWII America, thanks to the fruits of a militant labor movement that won new social programs and important concessions from the bosses, productivity gains were generally tied to rising household incomes and wages. This was true roughly until the 70s: the more productive America was, the more prosperity working families enjoyed. But slowly these two things have come apart: American productivity in 2010 was about twice what it was in 1980, but household income and wages had stayed the same.
Why did this happen? In short, the strength of organized labor went in decline. Between 1947 and 1979, there were an average of 303 “major” strikes (involving 1,000 or more workers) every year. That number began to plummet, along with the number of union members, exactly at the same time that productivity became decoupled from income/wages. Since 2010, the average number of major strikes per year has been 14, and union density has dropped below 12%. The data is clear: strong unions, less inequality.
Watch our Organized Labor 101 chat with the Director of the Center for Work & Democracy at ASU, Mike McQuarrie, via the links below.
Watch Organized Labor 101 Part One Watch Organized Labor 101 Part Two