Source: Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Suresh Naidu, Adam Reich, and Patrick Youngblood, New Labor Forum, February 2021
…The fundamental problem for a labor organization is persuading individual workers to commit to personally costly (and often risky) actions that yield collective benefits for workers within a workplace and for the labor movement as a whole. Such collective action is critical for workers since the labor movement will always have a hard time matching business in terms of money, technology, and influence with elites and politicians. Instead, labor’s power lies in its ability to mobilize large numbers of everyday people, whether to strike, sign petitions, canvass voters, or even target their pension investments (see “Capital Strategies for the Common Good: A Tool for Labor’s Revival” by Patrick Dixon in this issue). Despite being the source of organized labor’s power, bursts of worker collective action are rare and difficult to sustain. What can be done to make such action easier in the current U.S. political climate, in which organized labor appears to have limited durable influence?
Modern quantitative social science provides some new tools to address this challenge. These tools have been used to allocate scarce resources, for example, matching medical residents with hospitals, allocating food donations across food banks, assessing tactics in political campaigns, and evaluating anti-poverty initiatives in developing countries….
Source: Nicolás Rivero, Quartz at Work, December 13, 2020
Technology has already fundamentally changed the way that millions of people work. Now, it’s changing the way they unify to make demands of their employers.
Waning union power across industries and around the world has left workers with fewer formal structures for venting grievances. In some sectors, the rise of the gig economy and remote work means people aren’t meeting and forming relationships with co-workers like they used to. All of this has made it harder for rank-and-file employees to organize and collectively lobby their bosses for change.
But a spate of new digital tools offers a workaround, helping people to find far-flung peers, share grievances, and coordinate action.
Source: Adrienne Katner, Kari Brisolara, Philip Katner, Andrew Jacoby, Peggy Honore, NEW SOLUTIONS: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, Volume 30 Issue 3, November 2020
From the abstract:
America is at a critical crossroads in history as the COVID-19 pandemic expands. We argue that the failure to respond effectively to the pandemic stems from the nation’s protracted divergence from the democratic ideals, we purport to value. Structural racism and class-based political and economic inequity are sustained through the failings of the nation’s democratic institutions and processes. The situation has, in turn, fostered further inequity and undermined science, facts, and evidence in the name of economic and political interests, which in turn has encouraged the spread of the pandemic, exacerbated health disparities, and escalated citizen tensions. We present a broad vision of reforms needed to achieve democratic ideals which we believe is the most important first step to achieving true political representation, achieving a resilient and sustainable economy, and fostering the health of vulnerable communities, workers, and the planet.
Source: Maciej Kowalewski, Social Movement Studies, Advance Access, November 3, 2020
From the abstract:
Protests offline, under the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic and regulations such as a stay-at-home, require the adaptation of existing tactics and/or the use of innovative tools in the contention repertoire. This adaptation concerns restrictions related to pandemic measures, the lockdown of businesses/institutions, and social distancing along with access to resources, protesters’ security, and the no-harm principle. This paper provides examples of protests which have occurred since March 2020, under four categories: (1) tactics adjusted to pandemic-related limitations, (2) tactics that are an essence of such limitations, (3) tactics related to opposition to the lockdown, and (4) protest tactics use framed as ‘pandemic’. In the first section, I show how street protest (if permitted at all) is strengthened by symbolic action and how inability to refer to the ‘logic of numbers’ subjects the tactics to the ‘logic of bearing witness.’ However, the challenges and tactical limitations do not apply to the opponents of lockdown, breaking the rules of the sanitary regime. The demonstrations against the lockdown preserve the positive effects of street protests and even strengthen them. Discussion concerning high-risk protest actions under threat of infection results, however, in medicalization of political contention.
Source: Audrey Massmann, Sam Klug, and Dennis M. Hogan, The Forge, October 5, 2020
…This past summer, The Forge’s Lindsay Zafir sat down with Sam Klug, an organizer with the Harvard Graduate Students Union (HGSU), and Dennis Hogan and Audrey Massmann, organizers with the Brown Graduate Labor Organization, to talk about the road to winning a union for graduate workers, how they waged a contract campaign during the pandemic, and their vision for building power across the ranks of the academic labor movement. This interview has been edited and condensed. …
Source: Barbara Madeloni, Labor Notes, September 30, 2020
The pandemic has made me see more clearly why it works when workers get together to solve problems collectively.
With no public health system to access and a disorganized, inept, and neglectful response from the government, individuals have been cast out alone to deal with the pandemic. Decisions about working—and risking one’s health and safety—have become individual.
School districts have surveyed parents and educators, asking what individuals wanted for themselves. Unions that simply let members fill out their surveys alone reinforced the message: you are on your own, do what is best for you.
Which is why the contrast when workers come together to talk is so pronounced and powerful right now.
Source: Jae Yeon Kim, Studies in American Political Development, Volume 34, Issue 2, October 2020
From the abstract:
Scholars have long argued that the marginalized racial status shared by ethnic minority groups is a strong incentive for mobilization and coalition building in the United States. However, despite their members’ shared racial status as “Orientals,” different types of housing coalitions were formed in the Chinatowns of San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver during the 1960s and 1970s. Asian race-based coalitions appeared in San Francisco and Seattle, but not in Vancouver, where a cross-racial coalition was built between the Chinese and southern and eastern Europeans. Drawing on exogenous shocks and process tracing, this article explains how historical legacies—specifically, the political geography of settlement—shaped this divergence. These findings demonstrate how long-term historical analysis offers new insights into the study of minority coalition formation in the United States.
Source: Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, Ethan Porter, Social Forces, Advance Articles, Published September 7, 2020
From the abstract:
Despite their decline, unions, and especially public sector unions, remain important civic and economic associations. Yet, we lack an understanding of why public sector union members voluntarily support unions. We report on a field experiment conducted during a 2017 Iowa teachers union recertification election. We randomly assigned union members to receive emails describing union benefits and measured effects on turnout effort (N = 10,461). Members were more likely to try to vote when reminded of the unions’ professional benefits and community—but not legal protections or political representation. A follow-up survey identified the specific aspects of professional identity and benefits that members most valued and why. In a context where union membership and support is voluntary among professionalized workers, our findings emphasize the possibility of training for fostering shared identities and encouraging support for public sector unions. Our results have broader implications for understanding the public sector labor movement in a context of legal retrenchment.
Source: John Logan , The Conversation, August 24, 2020
American companies have been very successful at preventing their workers from organizing into unions in recent decades, one of the reasons unionization in the private sector is at a record low.
What you may not realize is that a handful of little-known law and consulting firms do much of the dirty work that keeps companies and other organizations union-free….
Source: Gordon Mantler, Rachel Riedner, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, Volume 17, Issue 3, September 2020
From the abstract:
In 2016, more than five thousand faculty members and coaches in the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties successfully struck in the union’s first ever such action in thirty-five years as an official bargaining agent. Two faculty members active in the union reflect on their experience in a wide-ranging interview about how years of careful, often painstaking organizing made such a success possible. The strike was the product of both ten years of increasingly acrimonious negotiations and considerable tactical work by a new generation of union members who learned a number of lessons from the process, including the necessary work of persuading faculty members that they, too, were workers.