By Matthew Rothschild on January 24, 2013

The latest numbers are out on the unionization rate in America, and for anyone who believes in workers’ rights, these numbers are horrifying.

The percentage of workers in unions last year dropped to 11.3 percent, down 43 percent in 20 years to the lowest level in almost a century.

In the private sector, the rate fell to 6.6 percent, and in the public sector it dropped to 35.9 percent.

When you look at that last number, it’s obvious why Republicans have been going after public sector unions. That’s labor’s last stronghold.

But it’s under siege.

Scott Walker shoved it to public sector workers in 2011, which resulted in a 25% drop in unionized public employees in Wisconsin last year.

In Indiana, where a so-called right to work law took effect last year, overall unionization fell 18 percent.

And since Michigan just passed a similar law, you can expect the rate to fall off the table there, too.

As the labor activist and writer Bill Fletcher has observed in his excellent new book, " ‘They're Bankrupting Us!’ And 20 Other Myths about Unions,” what we’re seeing now is “the final offensive” against organized labor in America.

Corporations have always hated unions. That’s why they bumped off labor organizers a century ago, and why they illegally fire them to this day.

But they’ve found an easier method now: Purchase state legislators, who then obligingly pass laws making union organizing all but impossible.

To respond to this final offensive, Fletcher says, in an article in the upcoming March issue of The Progressive, organized labor must broaden its focus and act not merely as an agent for its own members but as the leader of a broad-based social movement that is intent on helping working people everywhere.

As Fletcher says, “Time is of the essence.”

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Obama in the Shadow of Martin Luther King."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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