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Reviving the Labor Movement

Submitted by Natalie Mc Martinez on March 25, 2022 - 10:24am
Margaret Levi speaking at TEDxSeattle

Emeritus Professor Margaret Levi gave a motivating talk at TEDxSeattle last year on the historical contributions of labor unions in promoting fair wages and working conditions, and recent developments that suggest new approaches to increasing the bargaining power of workers. Labor unions put an end to child labor, improved working conditions,  and built the middle class in the U.S. They also brought about key aspects of modern employment such as health insurance and Social Security. In the 1950’s, 33% of private workers were part of unions versus 6% today. This decline of labor union membership coincides with rising economic inequality.

The decline is also not due to worker opposition – 50% of workers say they would join a union given the chance. A central problem for unions are ‘right to work’ laws that make unions impracticable by allowing workers who benefit from collective bargaining to opt out of paying union dues. Another problem is that corporations and politicians mislead the public by suggesting that unionization will only increase the costs of products and services. Levi argues that such cost increases are very modest compared to the societal benefits.

There is still hope for organized labor despite concerted opposition by corporations and elected officials. Workers are finding new and innovative ways to organize, and Levi provides several examples, including employee-owned businesses and technology-based modes of communication and coordination.

Watch the full talk at