Labour market or labour movement? The union density bias as barrier to labour renewal
Most labour scholars view the unionised share of the labour market, union density, as the movementâ€™s primary source of power. Conversely, social movement scholars usually consider power embedded in disruption, organisational networks, resources, or political opportunities. Although many labour scholars promote â€˜social movement unionismâ€™ to reverse labourâ€™s decline, they have largely failed to adopt a thoroughgoing social movement perspective. A sign of this is that union density remains the sacrosanct indicator of organised labourâ€™s success and power. I argue that this density bias has significant analytical implications, leading observers to overlook non-market sources of movement power, to reduce a heterogeneous movement to a single organisational form, and to oversimplify the complex processes of movement organizing. I contend that treating labour explicitly as a social movement rather than implicitly as an agent in a market will open new lines of inquiry that may strengthen analyses of labourâ€™s prospects for renewal.
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