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Organizing the Postindustrial Work Force: Lessons from the History of Waitress Unionism


  • Dorothy Sue Cobble


Using previously unexamined archival material, the author reconstructs one successful historical alternative to the kind of unionism that developed in mass production industries: the “occupational unionism†practiced from the 1900s to the 1960s by waitresses organized into the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. This form of employee representation was distinguished by an emphasis on occupational identity, control over the labor supply, portable rights and benefits, and peer determination of performance standards and workplace discipline. The author discusses the implications of this research for the work of labor relations scholars and policy analysts, and speculates that some elements of occupational unionism may hold promise for organizing and representing workers today.

Suggested Citation

  • Dorothy Sue Cobble, 1991. "Organizing the Postindustrial Work Force: Lessons from the History of Waitress Unionism," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 44(3), pages 419-436, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:ilrrev:v:44:y:1991:i:3:p:419-436

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    Cited by:

    1. Elisabetta Magnani & David Prentice, 2000. "Unionisation, short-run flexibility and cost efficiency: Evidence from U.S. manufacturing," Working Papers 2000.04, School of Economics, La Trobe University.
    2. Ruth Milkman, 2013. "Back to the Future? US Labour in the New Gilded Age," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 51(4), pages 645-665, December.
    3. Philip James & Joanna Karmowska, 2016. "British union renewal: does salvation really lie beyond the workplace?," Industrial Relations Journal, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(2), pages 102-116, March.

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