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Time To Bid Farewell To "Big Labor"

Unions have shrunk. The vocabulary we use to describe them should, too.

Here are a few headlines from the Wall Street Journal's opinion section over the past year:

Big Labor's Wisconsin Vendetta (January 24, 2012)

Big Labor's Premium (June 6, 2012)

Big Labor vs. The Poor (September 17, 2012)

Big Labor's Losses (November 7, 2012)

Big Labor's Big Victories in State Elections (November 16, 2012)

Big Labor's Corrective Action (December 13, 2012)

And here is an excerpt from an article in today's Journal by the paper's well-regarded labor-beat reporters, Melanie Trottman and Kris Maher: 

Federal figures released Wednesday show the percentage of workers who belong to unions dropped to the lowest level since World War II in 2012, largely reflecting public-sector job losses and labor's continuing struggle to organize workers.
Unions lost 400,000 members last year, or about 2.8% of their total, and more than half of them were from the public sector, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. The percentage of workers in unions fell to 11.3% last year, from 11.8% in 2011—the biggest decline in six years.

Which leads to an obvious question: At what point in the continued decline of organized labor are its opponents going to stop referring to it as Big Labor? When it represents 8 percent of all workers? Five percent? Two percent? Those who have been seeking to diminish unions in this country can claim great credit for their success in doing so—as Kevin Drum notes today, it is the political and legal environment around organized labor in America, more than changed macroeconomic conditions, that explains why union membership has fallen so much more steeply here than in, say, Canada. But at some point, continuing to talk about "Big Labor" makes its opponents start to look like the man who beats to a pulp a churchmouse with a broomstick, all the while loudly declaring that it is a grizzly bear.

Addendum, 4:40: A sharp-eyed reader notes that the Journal editorial board is hardly alone in the "Big Labor" talk. A certain straight-news Web site favors it as well.

Follow me on Twitter @AlecMacGillis