Community Organizing Density

Community Organizing Ideas and Issues Personal Writings

Lisbon        In looking at the demise of institutional labor in the United States and most of the world, we all frequently look at the issue of density, which is defined as the percentage of workers that are members of unions compared to the total level of employment (usually non-agricultural employment).  Density is an extremely valuable tool in looking at whether or not labor is growing or dying and has become the benchmark for measuring the pulse and heartbeat of labor.  

    Sadly, there has been no similar way of tracking community organizing and its relevant membership strength.  One problem is that many organizations do not enroll members per se at least in the way that ACORN does or unions do.  Another is that the work and impact have not been taken as seriously as labor and therefore warranting the kind of study and rigorous measurement that attends to unions.  

    But, every once in a while the sun does shine on an old dog, and darned if I didn’t stumble on a piece by Professor Jeffery Sellers of USC where he included a chart pieced together from the World Values Study at least for the period 1990-1993 and something very close to community organizing density was right there in front of me as a little holiday gift!  The World Values Survey looks at a large number of countries and assembles a deep survey of respondents with questions across a wide variety of topics going to the issues of how citizens in these countries think about their society and values.  I should first state that these are not statistics in the sense that union density exists as a real numerical value of membership to employment.  These are self-assessments and identifications of membership in various kinds of organizations in some way corresponding to how important the respondent sees their membership, if you are following me.  So for example in looking at US union density in this period respondents asserted that 9% of them were members of unions.  The actual statistics between 1990-1993 were perhaps more in the 15% range, but that’s the way people saw the organization or were willing to identify with unions.  

    The nearest definition to ACORN and other organizations in our genre in the survey looked at “…mass participation in voluntary organizations…that also measure participation in … organizations that often represent disadvantaged groups.  One of these focused on voluntary organizations engaged in ‘community action,’ covers those addressed to ‘issues like poverty, employment, housing, racial equality,” according to Sellers quoting Inglehart, Basanez, and Moreno, who analyzed the survey in 1998.  That’s close enough to work for us.  So, what were the numbers?

United States    5%     Canada    5%        Britain     4%
Finland              3%     Norway    3%        Japan        0%
Korea                13%   France        3%    Italy        2%
Hungary            1%    Switzerland    3%

    Ok then, 5% for the US and Canada and a whopping 13% in Korea (I tell you there’s something happening in that country!), and pretty much chump change in the rest this small taste of a list Sellers provided.  Not much perhaps, but it’s good to know that roughly 15 years ago 1 of every 20 Americans saw themselves as members of ACORN and similar organizations around the country.  

    What about since then?  I’m not sure.  Sellers in a footnote to his holiday gift says that subsequent World Value Studies asked the questions in different ways so alignment is difficult in many of these categories.  He was not as interested in this one theme, and wanted to compare two different surveys (more on this tomorrow) so he used this time period.  I did a little hunting and pecking on the internet at the World Values Survey site so I know they have continued to crank these things out every couple of years, so we’ll take a look and see if we can figure it out (stay tuned!) or track down Professor Sellers and see if he’ll lend a hand.

    It’s a start though, and it’s important!