We Can't Win This on Our Own: Unions, Firms, and Mobilization of External Allies in Labor Disputes

Source: Marc Dixon, Andrew W. Martin, American Sociological Review, Published online before print October 18, 2012
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From the abstract:
To cope with steep losses in membership and eroding legal protections, some unions have begun to look outward for help. Scholars likewise point to broad-based coalitions as a potential route to labor’s revitalization. Yet surprisingly little is known about union coalition work, from when and why it occurs to what union allies typically bring to the table. We take up these issues with a unique dataset on strike events from the 1990s and 2000s, contributing to labor and social movement research. First, we show that despite considerable academic interest in union outreach to other social movements, this phenomenon remains fairly rare. Second, our findings demonstrate how the immediate threat to unions posed by employer intransigence matters not just for the mobilization of external allies, as the social movement literature would expect, but also for the assistance brought to bear by those allies, which has received relatively little attention from scholars. Third, although we find important distinctions in unions’ propensity for outreach, results suggest a more nuanced picture of union activity than previously conceived. In various ways during strike events, both social movement unions (typically highlighted in the literature) and declining industrial unions are turning to coalition partners.

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