Organizing The Ordinary City: How Labor Reform Strategies Travel to the US Heartland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

In New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, formal alliances between labor unions and community organizations have spurred successful workplace and policy organizing campaigns. As a result, the institutional form of the community–labor coalition is travelling to smaller, less unionized and more politically conservative cities, where the replication of established organizing strategies must contend with political, economic and institutional differences that often go unnoted. Comparing community–labor alliances in Indianapolis, St. Louis and Chicago, this article identifies heretofore unobserved conditions of possibility for successful urban labor organizing in the US. Compared to smaller cities, Chicago and the large urban areas from which ideal practices are abstracted feature higher levels of union membership, significantly more funding of basic social and neighborhood services, and larger immigrant communities. Operating with minimal human services and limited recourse to the social and institutional networks of immigrant workers, labor coalitions in St. Louis and Indianapolis face recurrent barriers to identifying workplace problems, mobilizing low-wage workers and sustaining citywide reform campaigns. This indicates geographical limits to the current organizing model and highlights the limitations of urban scholarship derived from large cities unrepresentative of urbanity as a whole.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)918-935
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Urban and Regional Research
Volume40
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2016

Fingerprint

reform strategy
labor
travel
workplace
coalition
campaign
immigrant
urbanity
worker
trade union
community organization
low wage
recourse
large city
wage
community
urban area
funding
reform
economics

Keywords

  • Chicago
  • Community-labor coalitions
  • Indianapolis
  • St. Louis
  • ordinary cities
  • policy mobility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies

Cite this

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abstract = "In New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, formal alliances between labor unions and community organizations have spurred successful workplace and policy organizing campaigns. As a result, the institutional form of the community–labor coalition is travelling to smaller, less unionized and more politically conservative cities, where the replication of established organizing strategies must contend with political, economic and institutional differences that often go unnoted. Comparing community–labor alliances in Indianapolis, St. Louis and Chicago, this article identifies heretofore unobserved conditions of possibility for successful urban labor organizing in the US. Compared to smaller cities, Chicago and the large urban areas from which ideal practices are abstracted feature higher levels of union membership, significantly more funding of basic social and neighborhood services, and larger immigrant communities. Operating with minimal human services and limited recourse to the social and institutional networks of immigrant workers, labor coalitions in St. Louis and Indianapolis face recurrent barriers to identifying workplace problems, mobilizing low-wage workers and sustaining citywide reform campaigns. This indicates geographical limits to the current organizing model and highlights the limitations of urban scholarship derived from large cities unrepresentative of urbanity as a whole.",
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