Poll: Americans side with public workers and their unions

Though unions are under attack in states from Wisconsin to Maine by tea party-backed Republican governors, they are winning the war of public opinion, according to the results of a new poll.

“The assault on the middle class and working people by some Republican governors and state legislatures has generated a backlash among voters,” wrote James Parks on the AFL-CIO’s blog, “who recognize the need for a counter-balance against powerful corporations and the politicians who do their bidding.”

That poll, conducted by Gallup and released April 1, shows that 48 percent of Americans side with the unions. Given a four percent margin of error, that could mean a majority of the population. And that’s more support than the tea party governors themselves received.

“Today, neither the governors nor the unions appear to have a strong advantage in the court of public opinion nationally, but the unions do have the slight edge, 48 percent to 39 percent,” the polling firm said in releasing its results. “This may be in keeping with decades of Gallup polling finding Americans generally approving of labor unions.”

The rest, 13 percent, weren’t sure (4 percent) or blamed both sides equally (9 percent). The poll was conducted between March 25 and March 27.

Independents were about evenly divided, and a surprising one out of four Republicans sided with the unions. People in the 18 to 34 age bracket showed a high degree of support – 61 percent – for the unions. The only group to show higher support was of union members themselves, 68 percent of whom support the public workers.

Every August, the agency surveys Americans about their attitudes toward labor unions in general. While the trend had been towards less support, it was reversed in August 2010. That year, 52 percent of those surveyed held favorable views, a rise of four points over the previous year.

Previous polls showed Americans agreeing on issues in the abstract, but this is the first poll to show such high support for labor’s side in the current fights specifically.

Given the pummeling unions have taken on networks like Fox News, the 2010 results surprised many. Some union activists have concluded that, given the “demonization” of public employees, overall support for unions in general in the 2011 survey will be higher.

The governors have been trying to eliminate collective bargaining – and, many say, the unions themselves – under the aegis of balancing the budget. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, has been so fervent in his desire to crush the unions that he stripped all financial language from the bill that would cripple the public workers in order for it to pass – and he’s broken laws to do it. A local judge has repeatedly ordered that the law be held off.

Walker isn’t alone: Ohio’s unpopular Republican Gov. John Kasich, backed by the state’s Republican legislature, signed a bill that takes from public employees the right to publicly bargain. The bill, SB 5, has generated a backlash from labor and its allies. Other governors are launching the same assault on public workers’ unions.

The poll came in the run up to yesterday’s We Are One rallies, sponsored by labor and its allies, especially community and religious groups, aiming to protest these governors, as well as build solidarity between different labor unions and other grassroots organizations. And these rallies come out of a background of an increasingly organized and mobilized labor movement.

Photo: People’s World