Public Sector Unions Need the Private Sector or Why the Wisconsin Protests Were Not Labor's Lazarus Moment

John Ahlquist 1
  • 1 University of Wisconsin-Madison

I argue that the extension of collective bargaining rights and formation of public sector labor unions requires the prior existence of these rights among significant sections of the private sector economy. The secular decline in private sector unionization will undermine the political bases of support for public sector unions. I demonstrate that public sector unionism emerged where private sector unions were initially strong. Declining private sector unionism has led to a marked decrease in support for public sector unions. The diminution of their allies in the private sector and the prospect of extended periods of austerity at the state and local level have put public sector unions in a precarious position that Republican governors and legislatures are taking full advantage of. The prospects for renewal in the labor movement are dim.

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This journal provides a forum for professionally informed commentary on issues affecting contemporary American politics. This includes but is not limited to issues engaging parties, elections, and political participation; the news media, interest groups, Congress, the Presidency, and the Courts; trends in public finance, presidential popularity, congressional productivity; in contemporary, historical, or comparative perspective.

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