Organizing across Difference and across Campus: Cross-class Coalition and Worker Mobilization in a Living Wage Campaign

Source: Labor Studies Journal, December 2007
By Jennifer Bickham Mendez and James O’Neil Spady

The authors analyze the practices and internal dynamics of a living wage campaign (LWC) at a liberal arts university to evaluate its implications for low-wage workers’ social and economic justice struggles. A vibrant coalition among faculty members, students, and staff members demonstrated the complexities of organizing across racial, class, and status differences when participants hold different stakes. The campaign’s diverse membership was its greatest strength and challenge, as campaigners brought with them key resources but also divergent understandings of the LWC’s meaning and ultimate goals. Although the LWC’s efforts at engaging in participative decision making, building relationships, and developing compatible frameworks of meaning created a culture of solidarity that invigorated the movement despite multiple obstacles, they were not sustainable. The campaign’s dissolution and ultimate reformation as a union with a very different culture and practice raises questions about the strengths and limitations of LWCs and their implications for a revitalized labor movement.

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