Skip to main content

How labor unions shape society - Margaret Levi


146 Questions Answered

TED Talk

Let’s Begin…

The weekend. Social Security. Health insurance. What do these things have in common? They all exist thanks to the advocacy of labor unions. Political economist Margaret Levi explains how these organizations forge equality and protect worker rights, calling for a 21st-century revival of the labor movement in order to build a more equitable future.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

Trade union membership worldwide has been declining over time. In 1985, average trade union membership in OECD countries was 32.1 percent. In 2019, membership fell to 15.8 percent. For more information about these figures, see here.

According to 2017 polling data from a survey conducted by MIT researchers and the National Opinion Research Corporation, 48 percent – nearly half of non-unionized workers – would join a union if given the opportunity to do so. For more information, see here and here.

As of January 2021, 27 states had right-to-work laws in place. For more details, see here and here. To learn more about how right-to-work laws impact economic growth, wages, and civic participation, take a look at this study.

To learn more about the Mondragon co-op, check out this TED-Ed video which explores the different types of cooperatives and how they operate.

A 2016 survey of freelancers in six countries found that those who freelance by choice– 70% of respondents– were happier than people in traditional jobs, specifically when it came to things like independence and flexibility in terms of where and when they work. So what does it take to be a successful freelancer? Explore the benefits and drawbacks of the gig economy.

In the United States and Canada, the first Monday of September is a federal holiday, Labor Day. Originally celebrated in New York City’s Union Square in 1882, Labor Day was organized by unions as a rare day of rest for the overworked during the Industrial Revolution. Kenneth C. Davis illustrates the history of Labor Day from Union Square to today.

Economics has had a huge impact on the world we live in—and understanding the key factors at play in these massive, interconnected systems can give us insight into how to make them better, stabler, and more equitable. Dig into these quick and compelling explainers from TED-Ed and the World Economic Forum for a taste of economics in action.

Next Section »

About TED Talk Lessons

TED Talk Lessons are created by TED-Ed using phenomenal TED Talks. Do you have an idea for a lesson? Create it now using any video from YouTube »

Meet The Creators

  • Speaker Margaret Levi

More from Troubleshooting the World