In a longer piece about unions and the middle class, writer Ken Braun hit the nail on the head, effectively busting the union myth that “unions built the middle class.”
The fact is, World War II–not unions–built the middle class.
Unable to claim credit for creating actual products, union apologists will fall back on the assertion they “built the middle class.” The UAW example shows this too is a dubiously sourced accomplishment.
General Motors first recognized the UAW in 1937, following the “Sit Down Strike” in Flint. Ford didn’t follow until 1941. The massive economic and industrial disruption of World War II shortly thereafter makes it impossible to discern any early contribution of the union toward helping the middle class.
The War itself substantially blasted away the manufacturing spine of the rest of the globe, leaving American manufacturers and their workers in an historically absurd position of super-dominance. With or without a UAW, disproportionate prosperity was going to flow to American workers for decades afterward as the rest of the world recovered from the rubble.
Twenty-five years later foreign automakers were again big enough to move strongly into the U.S. market. The curtain would soon fall on an unprecedented era of job growth at UAW plants. [Emphasis added.]
While Ken focuses on the UAW in his article, the same example can be used across all of U.S. manufacturing.
When the rest of the industrialized world recovered from having been blown away during World War II, and other countries’ industrial capacity rose, America’s unions saw their ability to compete diminish–and they’ve never recovered, which explains this chart:
Read the rest of Ken Braun’s brilliant piece, Big Labor didn’t build the middle class.