Last night on Twitter, labor journalist Mike Elk brought to my attention what I think is the single most telling result from last night’s Wisconsin exit polls namely that 33 percent of Wisconsin voters said someone in their household is a union member and 38 percent of those voters pulled the lever for Scott Walker. Those unionists for Walker are only 12.5 percent of the electorate, but that’s still pretty big compared to the overall margin. Certainly it’s much more common in Wisconsin to see a member of a union household voting Republican than to see an African-American doing the same.
And the results seem fairly typical. Walker got 37 percent of the union vote in his original 2010 election and nationally 37 percent of people in union households voted for a GOP House candidate in 2010. Again, those aren’t huge numbers. But they’re not tiny numbers either. And the contrast with African-Americans is telling, as is the fact that Walker espousing an explicitly anti-union agenda in a high profile way didn’t really move the dial.
Over the past five years I’ve read more and more progressive lamentations of the decline of organized labor in the United States, but typically in narratives that seem to deny agency to the union leaders themselves. But part of what you see in Wisconsin is labor leaders paying the price for inability to deliver their own members.