October 2003

No. 896: What Can We Learn About the Decline in U.S. Union Membership from International Data?

published in: Phanindra V. Wunnava (ed.), The Changing Forms of Unions: New Forms of Representation, M.E. Sharpe 2004

This paper is composed of two parts. First, using international data, I corroborate that union density in the U.S. declined because of asymmetric growth between the union and nonunion sectors. I show union density to increase in countries experiencing strong manufacturing growth, and to decline in countries undergoing large women’s increases in nonagricultural employment. Second, I borrow from international relations research on war and peace to develop a cogent reason why union density differs by sector. In this vein, I apply a model primarily used to describe bilateral political interactions to figure out why workers often engage in hostile activities such as strikes. In doing so, I look at the contentious rather than the cooperative “face” of unions.