The Decline of Workers’ Incomes, the Weakening of Labor’s Position

The Decline of Workers’ Incomes, the Weakening of Labor’s Position

Notwithstanding the vigorous economic upswing that began early in 1983 and continues at this writing, if at a slower pace, the American labor movement remains on the defensive. Its wage settlements have shrunk—in 1984, major collective bargaining contracts provided the lowest average wage adjustments in the 17 years for which the data have been reported by
the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The labor movement has yet to reattain earlier peaks in membership or to widen its share of the employed work force. Because it is unable to realign its industrial and occupational makeup with that of employment generally, it cannot overcome a major hindrance to its growth. It has failed to recapture most of the concessions that have marked its retreat since the early 1980s. Indeed, labor is still making concessions, especially with regard to entry-level pay and an insidious two-tier wage system. Work stoppages run at record lows, reflecting a loss in combativeness. The right to organize and bargain collectively has not been openly challenged, but the exercise of this right has been increasingly frustrated by management, and charges of unfair labor practices against management have soared.

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima