In a web chat last month with an extraordinarily bright and engaged group of DMI Scholars, the students were full of questions. They’d read my work arguing that enabling working people to organize unions more easily would boost the middle class and stimulate the economy, and one question in particular kept surfacing in different forms.
Can America still afford unions? In a globalized economy, do they make the country uncompetitive? Is the collapse of G.M. and Chrysler an indication that unions are no longer viable?
My answers to these critical questions would have been significantly strengthened had I seen the research just released by Josh Bivens at the Economic Policy Institute. Bivens takes direct aim at the argument that unions are a drag on America’s manufacturing sector or the economy as a whole, finding that, on a global scale, American manufacturing workers rank low in terms of pay and high in terms of productivity. In short, they contribute to the nation’s economic competitiveness. But other factors, from the overvalued U.S. dollar to our lack of public health coverage, dull the competitive edge. To make the nation more competitive we should address these issues, not take pot shots at working people and their efforts to earn a middle-class standard of living.
I recommend the report to DMI Scholars, and scholars at heart.