However important issue-based advocacy groups may be, they simply can’t muster the power that unions can. That’s not because workers are noble or magic, but because they have something that capital needs to generate profits: labor power, which unions pool into units large enough to hold leverage over bosses in a way that brilliantly crafted and popular policy arguments simply aren’t capable of doing on their own.
While the PRO Act doesn’t automatically reverse the tides of class power, it does make doing so possible. Polls suggest that over half of workers report wanting to join a union if they could, a number Furman argues is so much higher than actual membership rates largely because of steep obstacles the PRO Act would go a long way to smooth out: “Right now, if someone says they want to join a union, almost everything tells you not to do it,” Furman said. “You’re likely to get fired, you probably won’t win the union, you’re likely not to win a first contract. And if you do all those things, best-case scenario is in five years you might get a raise.” The PRO Act would change those odds and encourage organizing campaigns.
But the end goal isn’t for employees to raise their wages through bargaining—that’s only the beginning. Newly unionized workers are, by definition, people who have already waged and won a political fight. Not only does that victory make a bolder vision of what’s politically possible seem more credible, it also sharpens the skills organizers need to win bigger things—like the ability to take health care off the bargaining table for good. “I don’t think you snap your fingers and we suddenly have universal social programs,” Furman explained. “But it’s very hard to imagine how you get to universal social programs without doubling the strength of the labor movement.”