08/02/2005 - Last week's historic split in the House of Labor was driven, at least in part, by disagreements over whether the AFL-CIO should be focusing more on union organizing drives or electoral politics.
Much is at stake, not just for the union movement but also for the political parties. Working class voters are a key swing constituency, and in recent years the Republicans have made significant gains among this economic group, even as the Democrats have retained their strong support from labor union members and their immediate families.
Today, just 12.5% of the workforce belongs to a union; the rate was more than twice as high when the AFL-CIO was founded 50 years ago. But the union vote carries more political clout than the sharp decline in overall membership suggests. Since 1980 about one-in-four voters on election day belonged to a household that included a union member, and there is no sign that this percentage is declining.
But while the union vote remains a key part of the Democratic base, the economic class from which most union members are drawn has become a growth area for Republicans. Indeed, a review of relevant data suggest that the age-old political axiom – Democrats are the party of the working class; Republicans are the party of the well-to-do – could stand a little updating.
Read full commentary GOP Makes Gains Among The Working Class, While Democrats Hold On To The Union Vote on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.