Bargaining for Rights in Luxury City: The Strategic Dilemmas of Organized Labor’s Urban Turn

Source: Ian Thomas MacDonald, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 36 no. 2, June 2011
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From the abstract:
A number of service-sector unions in the United States have turned to urban land-use strategies in alliance with community organizations to achieve organizing goals and sustain bargaining regimes in a hostile environment. These union strategies typically entail the formation of project-specific “common cause” coalitions with community organizations in order to leverage local benefits, living wages, and union rights from private developers and growth-oriented local governments.The labor studies literature on community unionism understands these strategies through the analytical frame of social movement theory, and closely associates them with labor movement renewal. In approaching the question from the perspective of critical human geography, this article highlights a contradiction that emerges in labor’s land-use campaigns in cases where redevelopment entails the transformation of working-class neighborhoods into spaces of production and luxury consumption. The article argues that a strategy of negotiating distributional shares out of prospective increases in land values in such cases encourages union-community coalitions to prioritize workplace over residential demands, in turn reproducing structural divisions between labor and community. The argument is sustained through a discussion of the involvement of the New York City hotel workers union, UNITE-HERE Local 6, in a labor-community coalition formed to contest the terms of the redevelopment of Coney Island. The case study casts some doubt on whether labor-community land use strategies of this type are consistent with labor movement renewal.

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