Key Sources on the Value of Unions and the Importance of Protecting Workers’ Real Freedom to Join Together

Stephen Herzenberg |

Today is a little like Labor Day except with a twist: because of oral arguments today in the Supreme Court on the Janus case, editorial boards, the media, social media, and the public are all focused on workers—in this case, on their freedom to join together into unions.

Given the widespread interest, here are some links, new and old, on unions.
A “two-pager” on the value of unions that draws heavily from this longer piece by the Economic Policy Institute published last year.
A new report by the Economic Policy Institute that documents the orchestrated, decades-old funding by right-wing individuals, foundations, and non-profits that led up to the Janus case. Today’s New York Times story appears to draw heavily from the new EPI report although it does not reference it.
A podcast on the value of unions from last week’s Rick Smith Show.
“New Unions for a New Economy,” an old but still relevant piece that explains the simple idea that “unions are as important in the new economy as in the old.” Got another idea besides union growth for restoring broadly shared prosperity? Didn’t think so.
A video from AJ+ about how the U.S. was once known for strong labor unions that are now being killed off by billionaire donors.
A recent conference paper arguing that, even though unions are down, we may be closer to an upsurge in unionism that people realize! Workers and their unions in the past few years have made significant progress reinventing the basic union paradigm to fit today’s service economy and win the public argument that “unions are as important in the new economy as the old.”
The transcript of a conference call with 100 child care advocates across the country explaining how unions might be relevant to overcoming the core dilemma of early-childhood education, “parents can’t afford to pay, teachers can’t afford to stay, there’s got to be a better way.” The transcript also drives home a key point about the flexibility of unions: a union is a form of collective action, it is workers’ vehicle (in this case early childhood educators’ vehicle) for reshaping their world of work in ways that treat them and those they serve with dignity and decency.
A PowerPoint from a conference of Wisconsin early childhood educators that again explores in that concrete context how unions might be the “better way” leading to quality jobs and higher quality education in early childhood.
A classic law review article by our friend and colleague Howard Wial that also drives home the flexibility—and varied formsof unionism. If you read this article and take it to heart, you will never again conflate unionism with its U.S. industrial union form in factories. Again the fundamental point—unions are a vehicle for collective action by workers to make our capitalism more humane and our democracy more responsive to regular people and the common good.
And, finally, if you are a glutton for punishment, a progress report for an International Labour Organization book on U.S. unions attempts to adapt to the new economy.