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Unions in the Global Economy


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The U.S. Census Bureau released statistics this week on annual U.S. exports and imports showing that the U.S. international trade deficit in manufactured goods increased from $490.5 billion in 2013 to $551.8 billion in 2014, an increase of $61.3 billion (12.5 percent). The U.S. manufacturing trade deficit has increased in each of the past five years, and has almost returned to pre-global economic crisis levels. As EPI Economist Robert Scott points out, “China and the members of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were important contributors to the growing U.S. trade deficit in manufactured goods in 2014.” The total U.S. goods trade deficit with China increased by $23.9 billion (7.5 percent) in 2014, to $342.6 billion.

GE US Divided



Economic recoveries are supposed to benefit the majority of Americans, and indeed, there was a
time when this was true. Unfortunately, over the past sixty years things have changed
drastically. With each expansion, the bottom 99 percent of wage earners has captured a smaller and smaller share of income gains while and the top 1 percent has taken more. This has led to greater inequality in the distribution of income and wealth in our society. A rising tide no longer seems to lift all boats.

If the economy has recovered and companies are back making record profits, how come we’re not sharing in all that prosperity? General Electric has emerged from the global financial meltdown of 2007-2009, and is now doing quite well in the economic “recovery”.



The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 5.6 percent in December 2014, a post-recession low and a full 1.1 percentage points below a year ago (6.7% in December 2013).  Despite the creation of 2.77 million new jobs, average hourly earnings for American workers fell in December, calling into question whether tightening labor markets will automatically translate into broad-based wage gains for the majority of American workers in the coming year.  Nominal wages for the year are up 1.7 percent from one year ago.  Adjusted for inflation, however, wages are essentially flat, and have been for most workers throughout the so-called economic recovery.  American workers need a raise!

See what Jeff Immelt says about GE Recovery:

“The world is complicated.  But through the fog of the last five years, I would take the 2014 economy any day.  The recovery is slow, but there are no major headwinds…we have the financial strength to make progress on our own.  We are positive about the future.  We have positioned GE to capitalize on the growth themes of the era.” GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt 2013 Annual Report to Shareholders.


Things are going well for the company.  Is that the case for working people across the country?


The shrinking of unions and the growth of inequality didn’t just happen. For decades, a group of people and organizations dedicated to making the rich richer have been working to strip rights and economic stability from the overwhelming majority of Americans. Big Business has poured resources into that agenda, which includes the deregulation of labor, environmental, and financial protections; negotiation of Free-Trade Agreements and the off- shoring of jobs; privatizing of public benefits and social services; attacks on Social Security, Medicare, and other facets of the social safety net; and cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy.




Factors like changing technology and ongoing corporate mergers and spinoffs have also played a role, but the most devastating factor to unions is the power and greed of corporations. In order to make this agenda succeed, corporations attack unions to make it harder for working people to join together to fight for a better standard of living and fair treatment. U.S. employers spend millions of dollars, both internally and on outside “union-avoidance” consultants, to stop workers from organizing unions and to punish those who do. Professional union-busters are consultants or lawyers who specialize in advising employers on how to thwart union organizing drives or how to decertify unions, thereby denying workers their fundamental rights.


Decline of Union Density

The percentage of U.S. workers in unions has declined since the 1950’s, when more than one-third of workers in the private sector were represented by a union. Today, union workers account for only seven percent of all private sector employees.