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What Can We Learn About the Decline in U.S. Union Membership from International Data?

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  • Polachek, Solomon

    () (Binghamton University, New York)

Abstract

This paper is composed of two parts. First, using international data, I corroborate that union density in the U.S. declined because of asymmetric growth between the union and nonunion sectors. I show union density to increase in countries experiencing strong manufacturing growth, and to decline in countries undergoing large women’s increases in nonagricultural employment. Second, I borrow from international relations research on war and peace to develop a cogent reason why union density differs by sector. In this vein, I apply a model primarily used to describe bilateral political interactions to figure out why workers often engage in hostile activities such as strikes. In doing so, I look at the contentious rather than the cooperative “face” of unions.

Suggested Citation

  • Polachek, Solomon, 2003. "What Can We Learn About the Decline in U.S. Union Membership from International Data?," IZA Discussion Papers 896, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp896
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Freeman, Richard B, 1988. "Contraction and Expansion: The Divergence of Private Sector and Public Sector Unionism in the United States," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 63-88, Spring.
    2. Richard B. Freeman, 1998. "Spurts in Union Growth: Defining Moments and Social Processes," NBER Chapters,in: The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century, pages 265-296 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Keywords

    manufacturing growth; union density; unions; international relations;

    JEL classification:

    • J4 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets
    • J5 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining
    • F16 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade and Labor Market Interactions

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