Despite years of employer attacks, unions still have vast resources at their disposal. This moment of worker upsurge is the time to use those assets to fund aggressive organizing.

By Chris Bohner, Jacobin

Every May Day, labor unions around the world celebrate the heroism of the militant workers of 1886 who led a bloody general strike demanding the eight-hour workday. But there is also another, usually less inspiring, spring ritual of the labor movement: the parsing of union membership data and trends in the annual release by the Department of Labor. After the data release in March, almost always showing a decline in membership, the media and pundits warn that labor is facing an “existential crisis,” predicting unions will soon be irrelevant or bankrupt unless they urgently organize more workers.

union workers in parade hold letters that spell UNION

This ritual has been observed at least since the early 1990s, when I first started working for the labor movement. It also happens to be, in some significant ways, wrong.

Of course, the decline of union membership is a crisis for workers who don’t have the benefit of union representation, or for union workers who’ve seen their bargaining power erode over the last several decades. And it is a crisis for democracy itself. But the decline in union membership is not necessarily a financial crisis for organized labor, and it is far from an existential crisis.

As a researcher for labor unions, I was always taught to “follow the money” when analyzing companies and industries, to look at corporate finances to understand the strategic posture of the bosses. But what if you follow the money of organized labor?

Unions are required by law to file annual financial reports with the Department of Labor, commonly known as LM-2s, providing detailed information on a wide range of union finances (although it excludes state and local unions solely representing public-sector workers). Union avoidance consultants and outfits like the Center for Union Facts love to mine the reports for anti-union propaganda. Still, the LM-2 reports provide important information for union members and prospective members on union finances.

Read More