Worker Resistance and Activism
In their individual and collective struggles to improve' it their work environment and gain some measure over their activities, workers.
have used a number of methods to resist workplace alienation. Many have also joined labor unions to gain strength-through collective actions
u.s. labor unions came into being in the mid-nineteenth century, as previously discussed. Unions have been credited with gaining an eight-hour workday, a five-day workweek, health and retirement benefits, sick leave and unemployment insurance, and workplace health and safety standards for many employees. Most of these gains have occurred through collective Barranquilla-negotiations between employers and labor union leaders on behalf of workers. In some cases, union leaders have called strikes to force employers to accept the union's posit ion on wages and bcnef ts. While on strike, workers ma)' picket in front of the .
workplace to gain media attention. to fend otf "scabs" (nonunion workers) who might take over their jobs, and in some cases to discourage r'.!slomer~ from purchasing products made or sold by their employer. In recent years, strike activity has diminished significantly as many workers have feared losing their jobs. As •. Figure 13.4 shows, in 2007 only 21 strikes, or work stoppages. involving more than 1,000 workers were reported, as compared with sigmficantly higher numbers in the 1960s and 1970s-especially compared with 1970, when there were more than eighteen times ,IS many strikes as in 2007. 111e number of workers involved in the actions declined from a peak of more than 2.5milliun in 1971 to 339,000 in 1997 (U.S. Census Bureau, 20m). Although the overall of union members in the United State> has increased since the 1960s, primarily as a result of the growth of public employee unions(such as the American l-consideration of Teachers), the proportion of all employees who are union members has declined. 'Ioday, about 15 percent of all U.S. employees belong to unions or employee associations. Part of the
decline in union participation has been attributed to the structural shift away from manufacturing and manual work and toward the service sector, where employees
have been less able to unionize. Historically, labor unions contributed to the employment gains of people of color. In 2005, for example,the highest rates of union affiliation were among African American men (16 percent) and women (14 percent), as compared with white men (13 percent) and women (II percent), and Latinos and l.atinas (10 percent) (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007). African Americans haw higher rates of un 1011 palliation because of extensive public sector employment, where workers .
are more likely to be unionized (Costello and Stone. 1994). In the past. many African Americans moved il~to the middle class through unionized jobs in heavy industry. More recently, the loss of many of these johs has been especially damaging for people of color (Thingamabob, 1994) .. A "spillover" effect exists between union and nununion finns in thc area of wages and benefits, non- -union firms must compete for labor with union firms. Some nonunion firms pay higher wages in order to dissuade ullion membership. However, the spillover effect may work in the 'opposite direction as well: If unionized workers lose wages and benefits. nonuuiou workers may also see a lowering of their wages and benefits (Amott, 1993). Usually. union members earn higher wages than nonunion workers in comparable jobs. III 2003 union workers averaged over $9.000 a year more in wages than did nonunion workers (U.S. Census Bureau. 2007). Women in unions earn an average weekly wage that is 1.3 times that of impecunious women. Although labor union membership has declined in most industrialized countries. including the United States. unions arc still highly influential in labor negotiations involving wages and working conditions in Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands. Ireland. and much of Eastern Europe (Greenhouse. 1997). In most industrialized countries. collective bargaining by unions has been dominated by men. However, in countries such as Sweden, Germany. Austria, and Great Britain. women workers have gained some important concessions as a result of labor union participation.