Bernstein: ‘The Absence of Strong Unions and What has Gone Wrong’

Labor News

Reprinted from The Washington Post by Jared Bernstein on April 9, 2018.

What if the absence of strong unions is at the heart of much of what has gone wrong?

“Okay, I realize the question posed in the title sounds awfully sweeping and reductionist,” writes Jared Bernstein in The Washington Post. “’What has gone wrong’ is surely, as the political scientists say, ‘over-determined,’ meaning it has so many intertwining causes, it resists being pinned down the way my title suggests.

“But stick with me for a moment. Or do so if this seems even slightly right to you: The striking teachers are presenting us with a teaching moment. They are pointing the way toward a society that is better than the one we have.

“First, by ‘what has gone wrong,’ I mean the erosion of institutions whose purpose is to even out inherent power imbalances that arise in all societies and are particularly steep in our current moment. When institutions such as the vote, the courts, labor standards, anti-discrimination laws, regulations against monopoly power and reckless finance, and anti-poverty policies are under siege, a significant swath of the public, and particularly nonwhites and those with low incomes, has little recourse against the actions of those who would disenfranchise them.

“While the union movement has always had its problems — no institutions are immune from their own internal power imbalances — it has always existed, back to the guilds of the Middle Ages, as a counterfoil to dynamics that today take the form of rising inequality, the defunding of a government that is increasingly dysfunctional, nonrepresentative elections, and the unfettered rise of corporate power and finance. …

Washington Post 4/9

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Jeff Burman represents assistant editors on the Guild’s Board of Directors. He can be reached at

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