Social Movement Unionism and the UE

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Schiavone, Michael
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Flinders University
© FJHP, The Flinders Journal Of History & Politics 2006.
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The Flinders Journal Of History & Politics
Social movement unionism has become the new buzzword for both the academic left and union reformers. As Ian Robinson noted, “… analysts and activists have begun applying the concept to organized labor in the United States, as a characterization of some unions within the larger movement, as an ideal towards which organized labor ought to be moving if it wishes to recapture lost economic and political power, or both”. However, whether social movement unionism is something new is open to serious doubt. This article gives a chronological overview of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) and whether it can be classified as a social movement union. Kim Moody stated that a current of social movement unionism was “… already at hand in unions such as … the United Electrical Workers in the US”, although he did not elaborate on this statement.2 Thus, this article seeks to determine whether Moody’s claim is correct. This article is divided into two main sections; in the first section, I argue that the UE’s polices and practices match the key components of Moody’s account of social movement unionism. However, in the second section by analysing the ideological conflict within the UE, union raids and government harassment of it, and in recent times, its campaign to keep Stewart-Warner’s Chicago plant open, I conclude that that social movement unionism alone will revive US unionism.
Union, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), Social Movement Unionism, union reform, Industrial relations
Schiavone, M. (2006). Social Movement Unionism and the UE. The Flinders Journal of History and Politics, 23.