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What Happened to the American Labor Union?

This 2015 video from America’s longstanding newsweekly, Time, explains why unions have been on the decline in the United States since the first half of the 20th century. Using contemporary and documentary images relating to unions, the video explains that labor unions are a way for workers to gain collective bargaining power for higher wages, safer working conditions, and better hours. A common union tactic is striking, when workers agree not to go to work until employers grant their demands. The video explores various ways that workers have achieved change, but also notes that unions may seem less necessary, if not inefficient, due to government and legislative interventions, industrial reforms, and wider economic shifts such as automation and global outsourcing of labor. The video concludes by asserting that, despite these shifts and historical critiques of unions, they are still an important influence on the American workforce.

discussion

What fundamental question is the video trying to answer? What reasons are given for the decline of the unions in the United States?

How is the video structured and what materials does it use to address the question? Why does the video juxtapose archival images with contemporary ones?

How might the decline of labor unions be related to the growing wealth inequality in the United States?

Do you think unions are still relevant? Why? Why not? In what contexts?