Last month, union bosses from the AFL-CIO came together at a major convention in Los Angeles to discuss the future of organized labor in the United States. There they unveiled a new “Southern Strategy” aimed at revitalizing unionism. The AFL-CIO’s website noted:
What happens in the South affects the nation, and the region’s influence will grow as the South gains in both population and political representation.
Union officials are well aware that the South is the fastest-growing part of the United States, and simultaneously the part of the country with the least union representation. They do not apparently see a connection between those things, but they should.
The simple truth is that organized labor cripples economic growth. Because unions demand high wages and plush benefits, employers are unable to adequately respond to market conditions and prices. Since companies have to offer high, inflexible wages, they are necessarily limited in their ability to create jobs.
There is no better example for the pernicious effect of unions than the case of Detroit and the auto industry. In a study published by the Cato Institute, Randall Holcombe and James Gwartney wrote:
Even as the [auto] industry was collapsing, the UAW [United Auto Workers] was unwilling to offer concessions to the auto companies. Only when the companies declared bankruptcy in 2009 did the UAW offer concessions … the UAW provides an excellent case study illustrating … [the] observation that unions accelerate declining industries toward their extinction.
Today, the city of Detroit – long the proud host of the auto industry – is so economically destitute that it is mired in the largest municipal bankruptcy claim in American history.
And the citizens of Michigan are starting to realize that unions are to blame. This March, Michigan voters backed a right-to-work law that prohibited unions from forcing workers to join or pay dues. This would have been unimaginable even five years ago, but economic conditions have finally caught up with union-saturated states. The American auto industry in Detroit has collapsed. There are no jobs. And the unions are largely responsible. The people of Michigan are waking up to this; the people of North Carolina need to pay attention to the dangers of unionism.
Another sign that unionism’s flaws are obvious: Participation in labor unions is in sharp decline all across the country. This graphic from the Heritage Foundation shows the historical trend in union membership.
Given the historical trend away from union membership, it would appear that the AFL-CIO’s bid to “Organize the South,” is a last-ditch effort to save the labor movement in the United States. As traditional labor enclaves like Michigan push back against union bosses, the South has become an attractive target: There are large numbers of workers and probable sustained growth – at least until unions hamper Southern companies’ productivity.
In North Carolina, it appears that the push to “Organize the South” is already in full swing. Unions accounted for a significant portion of the “Moral Monday” protesters this summer in Raleigh. While it is hard to quantify exactly how many union members were present at the protests, at least 24 union members and officers were arrested. Some of these union members were from out of state, which suggests that there are so few union members in North Carolina that the unions had to bring in protesters from New York to exaggerate the union’s power.
More recently, two recent initiatives to unionize fast-food workers and Walmart employees are further evidence that Big Labor is making moves in the Tar Heel State. The initiative at Walmart is particularly interesting, since it appears that the demonstrators demanding unionized Walmart employees were not even employees themselves. In other words, the union is trying to get a foothold in a largely non-unionized industry.
The AFL-CIO’s “Southern Strategy” gives serious cause for concern. Although North Carolina is a right-to-work state, that could change as outside money pours in from Big Labor. What happened to Detroit could happen to Raleigh and Charlotte. On the other hand, if the AFL-CIO fails to successfully “Organize the South,” this could be the last dying gasp for the anachronistic labor movement. It may very well be that North Carolina is on the front lines of a battle to decide the future of Big Labor.