Want to be Happy? Increase Union Density

In terms of life satisfaction, countries with the
most union density consistently rank at the top. The Better Life Index, for
instance, which rates the life satisfaction and happiness levels of people in
the 36 countries of the OECD, has found that three of the top five countries
are in the European Union. These three countries in order of appearance are:
Norway at number 2, Sweden at number 4 and Denmark at number 5. Besides being
in the top 5, another thing these countries have in common is that they have
the highest union rates in the EU.

As of 2012, trade union density in Norway and Sweden
was 54.7% and 67.5% respectively. As of 2010, Denmark had a trade union density
of 68.5%[1]. That
these countries rose to the top of the happiness index in the EU is
significant. The rate of union density in the EU as a whole hovers somewhere
around 26%, which is similar to the Canadian rate of 26.8% (in 2011). The
countries with the least life satisfaction in Europe are closer to this figure
than to those of Norway, Sweden or Denmark. In the US the union density rate is
only about 13%. With a density rate like that, it’s not surprising that the US
didn’t even break the top 10 in terms of life satisfaction.

While the Better Life Index rates happiness based on
an evaluation of 11 different factors, including income, education, work-life
balance and the satisfaction a person feels in their life, some of these factors
are arguably more important than others. Conal Smith, section head with the
statistics directorate at the OECD, notes that life satisfaction is arguably
the most important gauge of happiness, as it is the factor that comes as a
result of all the others[2].

That happiness and life satisfaction are greater in
countries with higher rates of unionization has also been reported in a study
co-authored by Benjamin Radcliff, a political scientist from the University of
Notre Dame. The study, which was published in the journal, Social Indicators Research, found that happiness in one’s life
often means happiness at work. And happiness at work increases in relation to
the robustness of union presence. The reasons for this are obvious: unions
bring better job security, fair wages and benefits – all of which tend to lead
to a better life.

But it’s not just union members who are happier.
Radcliff found that the happiness brought about by union presence is a benefit
for non-union workers as well as union workers. Specifically, Radcliff found


People who have union
jobs like their jobs better. And that puts pressure on other employers to
extend the same benefits and wages to compete with union shops[3].

This is the great generosity of organized labour. Unions
benefit a country on a broad scale, securing crucial components of happiness
for all citizens. Viewed in the opposite direction, the less robust union
density is the less happiness people will have.

Just as weakened union presence erodes labour rights
and creates a race to the bottom, so too does increased union presence
strengthen labour rights and creates a rising tide that lifts all boats. These
studies once again show that supporting the rights of workers is of the highest
importance. And for anyone who would question why it’s important to support
unions the answer is simply this: your happiness might depend on it. If concern
for workers isn’t enough to persuade people to support unions, maybe their own
self-interest will be.

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