M4A1: Essay: Role of Unions in a Global Economy

M4A1: Essay: Role of Unions in a Global Economy

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Before you begin this activity, be sure that you have:

Read Textbook Chapters 8, 9, &10
Reviewed the PowerPoints for:
Chapter 8 [PDF file size 11.4 MB]
Chapter 9 [PDF file size 9.4 MB]
Chapter 10 [PDF file size 10.2 MB]
Reviewed the Video:
Bill Moyer’s Journal: Interview with Andrew Stern, President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. [Video, 4:20 minutes]

This assignment requires you to assess the impact of globalization and changes in U.S. society and politics to assess the future of unions in the United States.

There is an ongoing debate about the future of the labor unions in the U.S. You may have heard recent news about the moves in Wisconsin and other states to limit public sector unions. Industrial unions like the United Auto Workers and United Steelworkers of America continue to find themselves facing job losses and reduced membership numbers. American employers find themselves under continued pressure to reduce labor costs in order to remain globally competitive. While this is occurring, there are signs that the labor movement can bounce back. The SEIU and UNITE-HERE have had a lot of success with organizing women and immigrant workers in the West and in urban centers across the country. Most of these workers are employed in service and hospitality jobs.

In a 2-3 page essay, discuss what you see as the future of labor unions and the role they will/will not play in the U.S. economy. In your essay, be sure to consider the factors that you see as critical in determining the role unions will play in the future. You must support your analysis with information from the readings and other sources, as appropriate.

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Review the SBT Essay Rubric located in the “Start Here” section of the course for more information on grading criteria.


Expert Answer



Recently, there has been an ongoing debate across the United States about the role of labor unions in today’s economy and their future. Several news articles and media discussions have aired and published, including the recent move by some American states to limit the public sector unions. Almost every labor union in the United States, including the United Auto Workers and the United Steelworkers of America continue to lose many of their members. These developments have partly been caused by the changes in the industry, globalization, and changes in the labor market, with organizations and employers finding themselves under increasing pressure to minimize or cut down labor costs in a bid to remain globally competitive. There has been a noticeable union decline in recent years., making it difficult to ascertain whether labor unions have a future in the United States. However, there are a few signs that the labor movement in the United States may bounce back. For instance, the UNITE-HERE has enjoyed great success in the organizing of immigrant workers and women in the urban centers in the United States, most of who are employed in hospitality and service jobs (Zuberi, 2007).

The Future of Labor Unions in the United States

On average, about 10 percent of the total number of workers in the United States belongs to labor unions, with a majority being in the public sector. The level of union membership in the 1930s was approximately the same, around 11 percent (Wheeler, 2002). Therefore, labor unions have been where they are at in the past. In the 1920s and early 1930s, the situation in the American labor industry was similar to what we have today. The Republicans were in control of the branches of the federal government and the conservative ideology of a free market was largely advocated for. Moreover, unions were on a decline since the year 1921, with wages and salaries decreasing and employers re-organizing work to prevent unionization and cut labor costs (Freeman & Hilbrich, 2013). Contrary to the expectations of everyone, the greatest workers movement in the history of the United States came to be between 1932 and 1937. Several hundreds of thousands of workers formed new labor unions, existing unions grew in membership, several strikes were conducted, and hundreds of workplaces were affected by sit-down strikes. After the revolution, the political atmosphere of the country changed and union membership rose to approximately 40 percent.

It was the expectation of many that unions would decline continuously in the 1930s and 1940s, before the onset of the revolution. Even though it is not possible to predict a period of mass insurgency and revolution, it is still a possibility. It is highly likely that the United States will witness a period of direct, intense struggle against organizations and employers. In recent years, for instance, there has been a wave of teacher strikes in the country. This shows just how volatile the labor industry is at the moment. In the early 1930s when the Great Depression was in existence, the leader of the American Economic Association, who was an expert in union affairs, had predicted that unions could not expand in the 1930s, as they had been losing members throughout the 1920s (Freeman & Hilbrich, 2013). However, unions realized their greatest membership growth in the entire history of the American labor relations by 1937. Similarly, in 1955, the president of the AFL-CIO had dismissed unionization in the American public sector, stating that is was impossible to collectively bargain with the government (Freeman & Hilbrich, 2013). Less than a decade after the dismissal, unions started rising and growing in the American public sector.


The future of labor unions in the United States is not easy to predict. However, people should not assume that the current decline in union membership and activism is an indication that labor unions are coming to an end in the United States. The country has witnessed unpredictable growth spurts in union membership in the past, which is still a possibility today. A growth spurt in unionism will have a positive impact on the economy of the country, as it would resolve problems such as income inequality and promote equitable income distribution.


Freeman, R. B., & Hilbrich, K. (2013). Do labor unions have a future in the United States?.

Wheeler, H. N. (2002). The future of the American labor movement. Cambridge University Press.


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