Back in 1954, union membership stood at almost 35 percent of the workforce. This was an era where high economic growth was paired with livable wages. But the story has since changed, as union membership in the private sector now stands at less than 7 percent.
The story of unionism in America has been marked by its current moribund state. Years of successful union busting by Reagan-inspired corporate thugs, starting with the Gipper’s presidency right up to the current occupant of the White House have sapped the will of the labor movement in the United States.
But within all that there were a few people who fought to buck that trend—oftentimes successfully. One of them was Jane McAlevey. In this engrossing excerpt published in AlterNet from her tremendous tell-all account of her years as a maverick labor activist, Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement, McAlevey recounts her successful battle against a Universal Health Services-owned for profit hospital in Las Vegas to stop the decertification of a hospital workers' union. Where do you start when organizing an entire industrial sector according to McAlevey? Not with the weak, underperforming shops where workers are most likely to be underpaid and angry:
No, you start with the high-performing, income-generating outfits. You assume you are going to win the organizing drive (this leaves out the vast majority of union organizing), and when you do, you want to end up sitting across the table from an employer who actually has some money to pay for a good contract. Now, this presumes you care about winning a high quality contract (even more unions fall out of the mix). But you care about this, because you want the workers at all the hospitals in the market to see what is possible to win with a union.