No more business as usual
This thesis analyzes how the U.S. labor movement is evolving in the context of neoliberal restructuring. It explores Social Justice Unionism (SJU) as an emergent phenomenon that combines democratic infrastructure with progressive community activism. The present study contrasts this tendency with business unionism, a more conservative form of advocacy that characterized the post-War era and continues to influence union leaders. The thesis tests two central hypotheses. First, it explores the idea that unions representing service industry workers are more easily able to implement SJU because they have not been as directly impacted by globalized production chains and outsourcing since the dawn of the neoliberal era. Manufacturing industries, on the other hand, are not well-positioned to transition away from business unionism. This notion is confirmed. Next, the present study analyzes whether SJU is more effective in responding to increasing precarity that workers face. It finds that this is indeed true in some cases, but existing literature has underestimated business unionism’s capacity to fight for rank-and-file members. To test these concepts, the thesis conducts case studies of the 2018 Marriott strike organized by UNITE HERE, the 2019 General Motors strike organized by the United Automobile Workers (UAW), and the campaign for union recognition at New York City museums led by UAW Local 2110. Chapter Three analyzes collective bargaining agreements to examine what strategies each organization employs and how effective these tactics were in confronting neoliberalism. Chapter Four elaborates a network analysis of Twitter data produced by all three cases to compare communication centralization patterns and embeddedness in non-labor advocacy networks.