There are now 24 right-to-work states. But while these laws arrested the rise of the house of labor, there was an inevitability to its fall. Who are the collective killers? Like the murder on the Orient Express, just about everyone on the train.
First came automation. A third of U.S. workers were unionized in the 1950s. But with new technologies, we discovered we did not need so many men to dig coal, make steel or print newspapers. We did not need firemen riding in the cabs of diesel locomotives.
A second blow came with the postwar rise of Germany and Japan. Their plants and equipment were all newer than ours. Their wages were far lower, as they did not carry the burden of defending the Free World. Under our defense umbrella, they began to invade and capture our markets.
And Uncle Sam let them do it.
A third blow to Big Labor, concentrated in the Frost Belt, came from the Sun Belt. With air conditioning making summers tolerable, the South offered less expensive and more reliable labor than a North where union demands were constant and strikes common.
But the mortal blow to American unions came from globalization.
With the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and China propelling hundreds of millions of new workers into the global hiring hall, U.S. multinationals saw historic opportunity.
If they could move factories out of the U.S.A., they would be free of union demands, wage-and-hour laws, occupational health and safety laws, environmental laws and civil rights law. By outsourcing, they could produce for a fraction of the cost of doing so in the U.S.A.
And if they could get the U.S. political class, in return for corporate generosity at election time, to let them bring their foreign-made goods back to the U.S.A., tax and tariff free, profits would explode, and salaries and bonuses with them.
The corporate establishment and political establishment shook hands, the deed was done, and the fate of U.S. industrial unions sealed. So came NAFTA, GATT, the World Trade Organization, MFN for China, free trade with all.
And with globalization came trade deficits unlike any the world had ever seen, a loss of one-third of U.S. manufacturing jobs in the last decade, a U.S. dependence on foreign-made goods almost as great as in colonial days, the enrichment of our corporate and financial elites beyond the dreams of avarice, and the decline and fall of the house of labor.
Unions are dying because, in America, economic patriotism is dead.
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