Call Me Old-Fashioned But... Fending for ourselves
In a nutshell, as factory work and industrialism began to grow exponentially, instances of worker exploitation and maltreatment became widespread. The solution was for the proletariat to bind together in their shared "class consciousness" and collectively fight the powers that be in order to negotiate better labour conditions. Unsurprisingly, considering that those with the most political bargaining power tend to be high income earners/contributors, union formation has been deemed illegal in many territories throughout history.
We've obviously come a long way since industrialism prevailed, as evidenced by the fact that more and more traditional factories are ceasing operations annually. For the few that have managed to stay afloat, the employment of robotic labour forces is becoming an increasingly popular trend. Further, in recent times, abuses of power committed by unions (as opposed to employers) have created cause for concern: our own city's bus drivers demanding higher wages during a time of economic depression speaks for itself. Understandably then, I can appreciate why unionism has cultivated a bad reputation as of late and why people, particularly those my age, have become skeptical towards it, along with virtually any other longstanding "traditional" business practice.
But this drive away from uniting in a "fight against the man" toward taking any and all actions (whether honourable or not) in order to ensure that one comes out ahead also has to do with a social mentality shift. The obsession with being incessantly tuned into one's iPod that appeals to one's individualistic selective tastes (and therefore tunes OUT everyone and everything else around oneself), just barely begins to scratch the surface.
Think about it: in addition to caring about the livelihood of one's fellow employees, being a member of the union also stood as a symbol for taking pride in one's profession and a desire to be part of a movement that could make a difference in the wider social domain. The idea of collectivism – whether we're talking about joining forces in a fight for the implementation of legislation that encourages environmentalism or simply having the backs of those within one's immediate vicinity – seems to have mostly gone extinct.
I'll give you that issues of inflation, high taxation rates, and a lack of permanent/stable jobs available on the marketplace are also key contributors. Ironically, however, these social dilemmas – the things that have driven us toward this newfound excessive self-focused mentality – are the very SAME things that union supporters and other social collectives sought to prevent.