Unions and Political Participation

Here’s a new paper looking at union membership and political participation.

The goal is to study the issue cross-nationally, to think about how institutional/political context shapes the relationship between mobilizing structures (e.g., unions, parties, movements) and individual participation.  But this initial paper looks just at the US.

Kerrissey Schofer Unions and Political Participation 5.11.10.pdf

Jasmine Kerrissey is a PhD student at UCI who knows (among other things) a ton about unions.

The paper examines how union membership affects the political and civic involvement of members.  We try to explain why, where, and how:  Why unions generate political involvement; where is member participation channeled; and how unions shape participation.  We welcome comments.

I was initially hesitant to pursue the issue because (knowing little about unions) I figured that union membership was endogenous to political participation — that politically energized people would join unions and, of course, participate a lot in politics.  But, Jasmine (and some prior literature) convinced me otherwise.  People mainly join unions if their place of employment is unionized, and otherwise not… at least in many occupations and contexts.  That said, we try some tricks to address potential endogeneity.

One of several interesting findings:  the effect of union membership on political participation is much stronger for individuals with low levels of education.  Unions really “teach” less-educated people how to be politically involved, and build lots of civic skills.  They are often very intentional about that — and it shows up in our results.

In other words, unions play a distinctively ‘democratizing’ role by promoting participation among less-educated, working class individuals (who generally tend not to have much voice in politics).  Thus, the long-term decline in unions is extra bad… fewer union members means less participation overall, and much less participation by low-SES people.

Check out the figure:

Figure 1. Predicted probability of protesting by education for union members and non-members.


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