While Americans now celebrate the end of summer over Labor Day weekend, Labor Day originally began in the 1890s as a celebration of “the strength and esprit de corps” of labor unions. In their early days unions fought primarily to improve working conditions and protect workers rights. Large majorities of Americans have long approved of role labor unions play in society.
Until this Labor Day.
Gallup reports that, for the first time since they began polling Americans on the question in the 1930s, less than half of Americans – 48 percent – approve of labor unions. This represents a sharp drop from just a year ago, when 59 percent of Americans approved of labor unions.
Americans now look at labor unions with skeptical eyes. By a 51 to 39 percent margin Americans say that unions mostly hurt the economy. 62 percent of Americans believe unions mostly hurt non-union members, while only 29 percent say unions help those outside their ranks. And by a 42 to 25 percent margin most Americans want unions to have less influence in our country.
Why have average Americans become deeply suspicious of the self-proclaimed defenders of average Americans? Perhaps because over the past year unions have shown both that they harm the companies they organize and that they no less selfish than the CEOs they criticize.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) contracts drove General Motors off a financial cliff, as any observer could see. Unions destroyed what was once America’s largest and most successful company. Labor then used its political clout to successfully press for taxpayer bailouts of the Big Three. Most taxpayers opposed seeing their tax dollars preserving the earnings of union members earning triple that of the average worker.
And then there is Organized Labor’s well publicized political agenda. The misnamed Employee Free Choice Act would effectively strip workers of their right to a secret ballot election. Unions very publicly want Congress to take away workers rights. Organized labor has lead the fight for government dominated healthcare – an unpopular position, to say the least. They have fought to repeal financial transparency measures that allow workers to hold their unions accountable.
Over the past year organized labor has repeatedly put its own self interest above the rights of workers and the common good. No wonder the number of Americans toasting labor unions this Labor Day has fallen.