The American labor movement has changed dramatically over the last few decades. Unionization has decreased form 35 percent of workers in 1949 to 12.5 percent today, and public support is shrinking.
In this video, Richard Trumka, the new president of the largest group of unions, the AFL-CIO, says he hopes to change the image of the AFL-CIO as overwhelmingly old, male and white by attracting younger workers, more women and people of color.
He also has to deal with divisions within the movement, such as the formation of the rival Service Employees International Union four years ago, and big hurdles in Congress, where unions are fighting for health care reform and major labor legislation that would make it easier for workers to form a union.
"I will stop demonizing big business just as soon as they put their country before their profits and they put their workers before their greed.” - Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO, president
"I guess I have been rough, because we have taken on Wall Street, because we think they have created a lot of the problems that the country is facing right now. We think CEO pay, for instance, out of control. We think the risks that they took were unreasonable. And we're asked to pick up the price." - Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO, president
"Legislation is always a tough haul. When you have vested interests, like the insurance industry and a lot of the health care industry that -- that will hire every lobbyist in town, that will pump in billions of dollars in contributions to the candidates, it's going to be tough. Of course it is. That's why we haven't done it for 60 years. But we're closer now than we ever were. And we're not allowing those special interests, those that have an interest in keeping the system exactly like it is now, we're not going to let them prevail." - Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO, president
1. What is a union?
2. How do workers in a big company communicate with the leaders of that company?
3. Do you have a job? If so, how do you feel about your boss?
1. Why are unions sometimes so controversial? Why are people so passionately for or against unions?
2. List the arguments for groups that favor unions and groups that are opposed to unions? Which side do you fall on? Would you join a union?
3. Research the history of unions. Have there always been unionized workers? How did they come about? How have public perceptions of unions changed over time?