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Why Does the New Labor Movement Look So Much Like the Old One? Putting the 1990s Revitalization Project in Historical Context

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  • ANDREW W. MARTIN

Abstract

In the 1990s the labor movement underwent a major transformation in an attempt to confront the challenges facing organized labor, most notably a precipitous membership decline--in the private sector, membership is currently at a post-Great Depression low. Despite the enthusiastic response among unionists and scholars alike to this revitalization project, as Zald and Berger (1978) note, change within formal organizations is often a contentious process, as competing interests struggle for control. The current labor movement is no exception: Significant conflict surrounds the issue of new organizing activities. While this period is certainly interesting for the level of open debate occurring over the future of the movement, it is not unique as a time of heightened tensions among unionists. Herein I describe debates, both historical and present, over organizing goals and tactics. In order to draw parallels between the past and present, I offer a theoretical account of why organizing is such a controversial topic. Initial support for these explanations, drawn from quotes from unionists and observers of the movement alike, indicates that the current turmoil in the labor movement is similar to that which occurred in other important periods and that the consequences of the decisions made today regarding organizing can have significant ramifications for the movement's future.

Suggested Citation

  • Andrew W. Martin, 2006. "Why Does the New Labor Movement Look So Much Like the Old One? Putting the 1990s Revitalization Project in Historical Context," Journal of Labor Research, Transaction Publishers, vol. 27(2), pages 163-185, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:tra:jlabre:v:27:y:2006:i:2:p:163-185
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