I highly recommend this Kevin Drum article from the latest issue of Mother Jones on the decline of unions and what it means for the prospects of liberalism in the U.S. Drum points out that organized labor’s waning influence coincided with skyrocketing economic inequality and contends that this has important lessons for liberalism’s long-term efforts to create a more equitable society. (The article is accompanied by some jaw-dropping charts showing just how unequal we’ve become as a society.)
He goes on to argue that a big part of the reason for this widening income-and-wealth gap is the diminishing influence of unions. Throughout most of the 20th century, unions were the main institutional force agitating for policies that broadly benefit the working- and middle-classes, but as they lost their clout, the Democratic Party turned to the only other available source for funding and political support: big business. The result, since about the 1970s, has been two political parties catering to the interests of corporate America with little or no countervailing influence on behalf of working people. Without some such organized force, the prospects for economic egalitarianism–which Drum calls “the heart and soul of liberalism”–are dim.
I’m not sure there’s a lot here that hasn’t been said elsewhere–for instance, in Paul Krugman’s Conscience of a Liberal. But Drum’s article provides a clear and compelling overview of one of the most important issues facing liberalism–and the U.S.–in the 21st century.