United Steelworkers

Flagging unions can win big by going small

Organized labor's failure to unionize Boeing's South Carolina manufacturing plant this week can be interpreted as a sign that unions are losing their battle to become a bigger and more relevant player in a rapidly changing economy.

However, the machinist union's ignominious Boeing defeat, where over 2,000 of nearly 3,000 eligible workers voted against unionization, could also deliver this valuable lesson to labor leaders: Think small.

Indeed, the union's best chance to stay in the economic game may rest with recruiting subgroups of workers within companies or industries and not depending on organizing huge blocks of folks. It's a tactic often called micro-union organizing, and...