Public approval of unions has rebounded slightly from an all-time low in 2009, but remains low in historical terms, according to a recent Gallup
poll. Perhaps more significant, though, than the overall approval is the changing partisan divide:
Republican support for unions has fallen sharply since 1999, and has fallen to an all-time low in 2011 (after a brief rebound in 2010) even as support from Democrats and independents has picked up slightly in both 2010 and 2011 from the 2009 low. In these years, of course, Republican politicians have directed increasingly sharp attacks on unions; union-busting has been at the very top of the agendas of Republican governors like Scott Walker and John Kasich.
At this point, we can talk about what unions should be doing differently to improve the polling. And they are experimenting. Since 2003, the AFL-CIO has devoted resources to building Working America, a community affiliate that organizes people who are not union members; more recently, the AFL-CIO has announced that it is changing its political strategy. But the current polling we're looking at is the product of a long war of attrition, with unions financially outgunned in their attempts to change the dynamic either in public image or membership. And what may be really needed to turn things around is for working people who aren't in unions to realize that the war on unions is just one front in a broader war on workers.