Did Technology Help Kill The Union?
of Labor Statistics, Graph: BoogaLouie/Wikimedia Commons
If you’re a political animal, then you’d already know that the victory
of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in beating
the recall election last Tuesday was heralded
as yet another death knell in the popularity of labor unions in the
United States (his opponents, however, argued that he won by outspening
his rival by a 7 to 1 margin).
Indeed, as the graph above showed, union membership has been declining
in decades. But what caused it?
Derek Thompson of The Atlantic argues that there’s an economic reason
to the decline in the power of the unions: the rise of technology. He
pointed out the argument of Emin M. Dinlersoz and Jeremy Greenwood in
"The Rise and Fall
of U.S. Unions":
In the second half of the 20th century, the information age did
a few things that badly hurt unions. First, robots replaced unskilled
workers in factories. Second, IT created complicated machines and programs
that required something more than assembly-line competence. (Third,
although this isn’t prominently featured in the article, multinational
companies got savvier about offshoring cheap labor that wasn’t automated.)
Just as Ford’s innovation had disproportionately empowered unskilled
workers, who are more likely to unionize, the information age had had
disproportionately empowered skilled workers, who are more likely to