'Social Movement Unionism', 'Social Justice Unionism,' or some other understanding... Disentangling Theoretical Confusion within the Global Labor Movement

[Editor's Note: With the recent decision by the Washington Post, not generally a friend of labor unions, to feature a lengthy essay by Milwaukee's Bob Peterson, and the attempts by some in the Chicago Teachers Union to brand CORE as a "social justice caucus," it's time for a full debate over not only terminology but underlying concepts. The following essay by Substance staff member and contributor Kim Scipes helps frame some of the issues that are, once again, coming to the forefront as the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union ends its campaigns in the Chicago municipal elections and heads into a fierce fight over the new contract, the first since the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012. George N. Schmidt, editor, Substance].

By July 2014, leaders of the three largest pre-K - 12 locals in the American Federation of Teachers were brought together to discuss "social movement unionism" during the convention of the American Federation of Teachers in Los Angeles. Above, Michael Mulgrew (President of the United Federation of Teachers, New York City), Karen Lewis (President of the Chicago Teachers Union) and Alex Caputo Pearl (President of the United Teachers of Los Angeles) were on the panel on "social movement unionism" during the 2014 AFT convention in Los Angeles. Substance photo by Norm Scott.Social Movement Unionism or Social Justice Unionism? Disentangling Theoretical Confusion within the Global Labor Movement

Kim Scipes, Purdue University North Central


After the election of John Sweeney as President of the AFL-CIO in October 1995, activists and supportive intellectuals in the United States began thinking about how to revitalize the almost moribund American labor movement. A key part of this literature has revolved around the concept of “social movement unionism.” This term touched a nerve, and has garnered widespread usage in North America over the past two decades.

However, most researchers using this term have no idea that it was initially developed to understand the new unionism developed by members of specific labor movements in Brazil, the Philippines and South Africa, a type of unionism qualitatively different from that found in North America. This paper argues that the term “social movement unionism” should be confined only to labor organizations developing the same type of unionism, wherever in the world such should be found.

Accordingly, this concept should not be utilized in North America today as there are no labor centers or unions present that are developing this type of trade unionism.

It is important to clarify this confusion because it is leads to incorrect understandings and miscommunication. Accordingly, the current situation—whereby the same term is used to refer to two qualitatively different social phenomena —theoretically works against efforts to build global labor solidarity.

What about the progressive, broad-scope unionism emerging in North America over the past two decades? Taking a page from labor history, this article argues that the proper precedent is progressive unionism developed by the United Packinghouse Workers of America, CIO, and others, and therefore should be referred to as “social justice unionism.” An Appendix provides a measurement tool. The argument is empirically grounded and theoretically developed, allowing us to better understand trade unionism around the globe.

Recommended Citation

Scipes, Kim (2014) "Social Movement Unionism or Social Justice Unionism? Disentangling Theoretical Confusion within the Global Labor Movement," Class, Race and Corporate Power: Vol. 2: Iss. 3, Article 9.

Available on-line for free at:

Social Movement Unionism or Social Justice Unionism? Disentangling Theoretical Confusion within the Global Labor Movement, By Kim Scipes, Purdue University North Central, Labor Movement," Class, Race and Corporate Power: Vol. 2: Iss. 3, Article 9. Available at:

From the vantage point of the workers themselves, the struggle to achieve freedom of

combination has been waged not only to gain protection and improvement of the terms and

conditions of labor, but also to attain social justice and full equality in civil society where, as

individuals, workers could not adequately contend with the power of employers and the state

(Bonnell, 1983: 3).

After the election of John Sweeney as President of the AFL-CIO (American Federation

of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations) in October 1995 — the result of the first

democratic election for the presidency in the 40 years of the AFL-CIO — labor activists and

supportive intellectuals in the United States began thinking about how to revitalize the almost

moribund American labor movement (see Fletcher and Gapasin, 2008).1 The resulting literature

on labor revitalization is broad, and includes current issues as well as research on things US

Labor may learn from a re-examination of some of its past. A key part of this literature revolves

around the concept of “social movement unionism” and, as there appears to be somewhat of a

“pause” in this part of the literature since about 2010, it is felt this is a good time to review

development of this concept.

The term “social movement unionism” has been attracting increasingly greater attention

by labor theorists and writers focusing on unionism in North America since 1994 (among them,

Devinatz, 2008; Johnston, 1994; Moody, 1997; Nissen, 2003; Schiavone, 2004, 2007, 2008), as

they have tried to describe the “new unionism” that has been emerging in particularly the US

trade union movement. (2) Based on union member mobilization, social movement unionism is

being projected positively and presented as the way that US Labor as a whole should develop in

the early 21st Century. The term certainly seems to be resonating with activists, and is

increasingly being used by researchers (see, among others, Fantasia and Voss, 2004; Lopez,

2004; Milkman, 2006; Milkman and Voss, eds., 2004; Nissen, 2003; Schiavone, 2004, 2007,

2008; Tattersall, 2009; see also Ross, 2008).

To support this understanding, some theorists (Johnston, 2001; Nissen, 2003; Robinson,

2002; Schiavone, 2008; and see Ross, 2008) have been trying to define more precisely the

concept of “social movement unionism” (SMU) as developed in North America, and particularly

in the United States. (See also Fairbrother, 2008; Fairbrother and Webster, 2008; and Waterman,

1993, 1999, 2004, 2008 for a more global focus.)

At the same time, a strong and vibrant section of the American Sociological Association

(ASA) has developed since 1997, focusing attention on labor and labor movements. More and

more of these labor researchers have been recognizing the global impact of labor, and how

changes in the global economy have been affecting workers in North America and around the

world. Thus, as interest in labor has expanded globally among sociologists — particularly

through the International Sociological Association’s research committee (RC) on labor, RC 44,3

and its affiliated Global Labour Journal — an increasing number of ASA members since 2006

have been participating in RC 44. As American (and other) sociologists make these international

ties, and become increasingly aware of labor around the globe (see Burowoy, 2009) and join in

international discussions and debates, the necessity to understand similarities and differences

between efforts to revitalize the Canadian and particularly the US labor movement and

innovative efforts in particular labor centers becomes all the more important, as does

theoretically understanding these differences.

Accordingly, this paper challenges the usage of the term “social movement unionism” to

refer to any current efforts in North America. The argument is that social movement unionism is

a term developed for specific labor centers and unions that have been developing a qualitatively

different type of trade unionism, and should be confined only to such labor organizations. While

all labor centers that have developed this type of unionism to date have been located in the

Global South—specifically CUT (Central Única dos Trabalhadores-Unified Workers’ Central)

of Brazil, KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno-May First Movement) of the Philippines, and the Congress

of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) of that country (4) —this is not a concept that is limited

to that area; this is a concept that can be applied anywhere in the world to labor centers and

unions that are developing this new type of trade unionism. (5) As explained herein, however, this

concept should not be utilized in North America today, as there are no labor centers or unions

present that are developing this type of trade unionism.

It is important to clarify this confusion because it is leads to incorrect understandings and

miscommunication. Accordingly, the current situation — whereby the same term is used to refer

to two qualitatively different social phenomena (6) —works against efforts to build global labor


The conceptualization of social movement unionism was based initially on empirical

research and political involvement in and around the specific labor centers mentioned above in

three “third world” countries in the 1970s, ’80s and early ‘90s and, as discussed below, this type

of trade unionism was and still is qualitatively different from the type found to date in North


However, current writings suggest most of the North American-focused theorists and

writers are not aware of this earlier work and, if they are, that they have relied on a truncated

interpretation of this. Accordingly, this discussion has become terribly confused, (7) and threatens to lose the considerable benefits of research to date; this paper is an effort to clarify the considerable confusion around this concept and to preclude such losses, while suggesting a

theoretically-derived process to move forward in our understandings regarding progressive trade

unionism in North America.

Part of the confusion has developed because key researchers who developed the earlier

conceptualizations have shifted their foci from the subject at hand, leaving a vacuum in the

discussion. Two sets of the key writers who initially worked to develop the concept of social

movement unionism (SMU) — Peter Waterman and Rob Lambert/Eddie Webster — have traveled

subsequently in different directions, but yet have remained close enough to their original

positions so as to suggest that they are still writing consistently from where they began. Another,

this author, after contributing two articles to the debate in 1992 and publishing an internet-based article in 2001, has been focusing subsequently on other subjects — most importantly, the AFLCIO’s foreign policy program (see Scipes, 2010a, b, 2012).

The long and short of this is that there has been no long-term, internationally consistent development of SMU. By returning to this discussion, I hope to contribute to rectifying this problem, disentangling the confusion and suggesting theoretically-developed ways forward for unions and labor scholars.

As will be explicated below, there are currently three sets of writers who each use the

rubric of social movement unionism in one way or the other: those writing on contemporary

unionism in North America, especially those stimulated directly or indirectly by the work of Kim

Moody; those writing initially in regards to the new unions and labor organizations that emerged

in the 1970s through the mid-‘80s in the Global South, and subsequent theorization based on

experiences of certain “southern” organizations; and then subsequent writings by early theorists

who have gone in different directions without explicitly noting their respective changes in


This creates the basis for a great deal of confusion among labor theorists and writers, as

well as trade unionists: people coming from different perspectives can use the exact same term

to describe completely different things—and without even knowing it. This is not a firm basis

from which to increase our knowledge about Labor around the world, nor a viable means by

which to build global labor solidarity (Scipes, 2014a), nor a grounded way to develop theory to

understand these developments. (8)

Along with the practical ramifications of the lack of clarity, however, there are theoretical

implications as well. “Social movement unionism” in North America — as well as “social

unionism” (see Ross, 2008) — has not been placed within a global theoretical context, while the

conceptualization of social movement unionism developed in regards to these three specific labor

centers has been so placed. Thus, by attributing the term “social movement unionism” to

developments in labor in North America, theorists are, in fact, replacing a more theoretically

developed conceptualization with one less so, and without even knowing this is being done.

All of these varied conceptualizations have been published in books and articles around

the world, with many of the sources being unknown or undiscovered by subsequent researchers.

Others have inappropriately “mixed and matched” research findings, leading to more

uncertainty. Substantive contributions have been ignored. Simply put, the understandings

created to date have created a “goulash” that is theoretically immature, and global diffusion of

this “discussion” has also contributed to the confusion.

It is argued that this situation needs first to be recognized, and then to be disentangled.

This paper seeks to connect a number of issues that heretofore have been generally approached

separately in an effort to clarify what is meant by social movement unionism. This is done

through two parts, with the first one based on empirical studies, while the second is empirically based but theoretically-focused.

This paper begins with an empirically-based discussion of social movement unionism,

which is where the bulk of attention is paid. This first part, in turn, is in divided into three

sections. The first section provides a quick overview of the adoption and development of the

term social movement unionism in North America in regard to North American (US and

Canadian) trade unionism.9 In the second section, readers are introduced to an international

theoretical discussion and debate concerning the new unions (organized into labor centers) that

emerged within several developing countries during the late 1970s-mid 1980s, and then how

theorists in this “tradition” have subsequently developed this conceptualization. In the third

section of the first part, the social movement unionism that emerged in three labor centers

located in three different developing countries is shown to be qualitatively different from the

type of unionism that currently exists in North America, and it is argued that these two

qualitative different types of unionism should be recognized as such and distinguished by

different terminology. Accordingly, a theoretically-based taxonomy of types of trade unionism

is advanced.

The second part of this paper interjects a term, “social justice unionism,” into the

discussion. It does this by presenting a theoretical model that is intended to overcome the

currently existing confusion regarding North American trade unionism, suggesting how theorists

can address the problem. This is to untangle the concept and provide theoretical clarity from

which further work can develop.

The theoretical model advanced herein, based on sets of practices, suggests that there are

two levels of trade unionism: types of unionism and then forms (or subsets of the types) of

unionism. (10) Accordingly, it is argued that trade unionism around the world can be categorized

into three types: economic, political, and social movement unionism. Further, it is suggested

that each type of trade unionism can be subdivided into different forms.

To anticipate the argument in the second part of this paper, two forms (subsets) of the

economic type of trade unionism are identified: “business” and “social justice” unionism. (11) In

order to illustrate the difference between the two forms of business and social justice unionism, a

comparative-historical empirical study previously conducted by this author is utilized, examining

the different (and competing) forms of economic trade unionism that developed within Chicago’s

steel and meatpacking industries between 1933-1955 to establish theoretically the concept of

trade union “forms” (Scipes, 2003). Utilizing this earlier study, it is argued, provides needed

guidance. From consideration of this study, it is argued that the social justice unionism form of

the economic type of trade unionism, as developed by the United Packinghouse Workers of

America (UPWA) and a few others during the 1930s and ’40 is, in fact, the precedent for the

current “social movement unionism” in North America.

This suggests ways to proceed. It suggests that social movement unionism be retained as

a term to describe a specific type of trade unionism created by particular labor centers that so far

have existed in only certain countries in the Global South. (12) Further, it suggests that the term

“social movement unionism” (along with “social unionism”) in regards to North American

unionism be dropped, and be replaced with the term social justice unionism. This would allow

researchers/theorists to recognize relatively recent developments in trade unionism in North

America (and other countries) and to properly situate them theoretically, while no longer

ignoring or confusing North American developments with the particular type of trade unionism

found in specific labor centers in certain developing countries. Finally, by incorporating this

dispersed literature into this paper, it is hoped that subsequent scholars may cover the field more

accurately and completely. Accordingly, this paper seeks to make a major contribution towards

resolving both the practical and theoretical confusion that currently exists, whether it is

recognized or not.

Part I: Social Movement Unionism

We begin this study with an empirically–based discussion of social movement unionism,

and follow it by advancing a theoretically-based taxonomy of global trade unionism.

1. Empirical Research

This section discusses the concept of social movement unionism in both North America,

and among particular labor centers that have developed in the “Global South.” It first discusses

the definition of SMU in North America, notes how it developed, and how it has been applied

subsequently. From there, focus is shifted to the initial theoretical work on SMU that emerged

from studies of particular labor centers in the Global South. And through these processes, it

shows the qualitative differences between these two social phenomena.

Based on these discussions, it shows that the same term has been applied to two

qualitatively different social phenomena, and argues that a different terminology is needed to

distinguish between each of the two phenomena.

A. Social Movement Unionism (SMU) in North America

Kim Moody, in his 1997 book Workers in a Lean World, was the first to popularize SMU

in North America.13 He offered “social movement unionism” as a positive alternative to the

traditional “business unionism” that has for so long been dominant with the US labor movement.

Moody defined SMU as:

"Social movement unionism is one that is deeply democratic, as that is the best

way to mobilize the strength of numbers in order to apply maximum economic

leverage. It is militant in collective bargaining in the belief that retreat anywhere

only leads to more retreats—an injury to one is an injury to all. It seeks to craft

bargaining demands that create more jobs and aid the whole class. It fights for

power and organization in the workplace or on the job in the realization that it is

there that the greatest leverage exists, when properly applied. It is political by

acting independently of the retreating parties of liberalism and social democracy,

whatever the relation of the unions with such parties. It multiplies the political

and social power by reaching out to other sectors of the class, be they other

unions, neighborhood-based organizations, or other social movements. It fights

for all the oppressed and enhances its own power by doing so" (Moody, 1997: 4-


And Moody correctly — though in too limited a manner — attributes SMU to the new unions of

Brazil and South Africa (Moody, 1997: 205). (15)

It is to the work on the unions of Brazil and South Africa that we must turn for the origins

of this term. Moody, as he recounts (Moody, 1997: 208-212), relied for much of his knowledge

about unions in these countries on the work of Gay Seidman (1994). Seidman, in a very

innovative monograph, compared the development of labor centers CUT (Central Única dos

Trabalhadores) in Brazil and COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) within their

common context of rapidly industrializing countries, providing the understanding of social

movement unionism from which Moody developed his thinking.

According to Seidman, “Theoretically, social movement unionism is perhaps best defined

as an effort to raise the living standards of the working class as a whole, rather than to protect

individually defined interests of union members” (Seidman, 1994: 2). She amplifies a little

further, but it can be summed up as seeing SMU as being more than just the workplace-focused

and institutionally-defined forms of trade unionism that has been present among so much of the

labor movement around the world. Seidman further notes, after writing about unions joining

campaigns for community-based issues such as housing, health care and running water, that

“These campaigns link factory-based unions and communities, and they lead to challenges to

states as well as to individual employers” (emphasis added) (Seidman, 1994: 3).(16)

What does “challenges to states” mean in day-to-day reality? It means these unions were

challenging the anti-democratic dominance of the state by the elites and their allies, and the

systematic propagation of policies and operations that were intended to hinder if not attack the

well-being of working people (including peasants, women, and the urban poor) of their

respective countries. Key to this challenge was the establishment and development of member run, popular democratic and militant trade unions and pro-people organizations. These

organizations, in turn, focused resistance against employers, contractors, contractors and urban

police, against the elite-based state itself and, at best, suggested radical alternatives to the current social order for the benefit of all working women and men.

Moody’s definition of SMU, therefore, comes out of developing countries (specifically

Brazil and South Africa) but already in an attenuated version: where Seidman specifically

included “challenges to states” in her discussion, Moody did not. (17) Moody suggested good

things, but challenging the state is clearly not in his definition. This is an important point,

however: the trade unionism that emerged in labor centers in several developing countries in the

1970s and ‘80s—and the KMU should be included in the mix as well (Lambert, 1990; Scipes,

1992a, b, 1996, 2001; West, 1997) —specifically and consciously challenged the existence of the

state (specifically, the dictatorships that controlled each of these respective countries), the entire

established social order of each country, (18) and the global political-economic-cultural networks in which their respective countries were enmeshed. (19)

Despite this attenuated version of SMU—an attenuation that most theorists and writers

are not aware of—Moody’s terminology has resonated in North America and has expanded

greatly. A wide variety of authors have used the term, including (among others) Clawson, 2003;

Devinatz, 2008; Dreiling and Robinson, 1998; Eimer, 1999; Fantasia and Voss, 2004; Huber and

Luce, 2001; Johnston, 2001; Lopez, 2004; Milkman, 2006; Milkman and Voss, 2004; Nissen,

2003; Robinson, 2002; Ross, 2008; Schiavone, 2004, 2007, 2008; Sharpe, 2004; Turner and

Hurd, 2001; Wilton and Cranford, 2002; Tattersall, 2009; and Voss and Sherman, 2000.20

The best effort to date to pull together this entire “school” of thought is Bruce Nissen’s

2003 article in Labor Studies Journal. Nissen, in comparing “social movement” to what he calls

“value added” unionism, gives an excellent overview of the SMU “school”—including a

thorough bibliography to that point in time. He basically describes social movement unionism

theorists as arguing for the need to champion the issues of those oppressed by the US economic

system; to require an internal transformation of unions; and to advocate increased union member

mobilization (Nissen, 2003: 140-143). In short, those promoting the concept of social movement

unionism in North America argue for a democratic, rank and file-led unionism that mobilizes

their members to address not only issues of the union’s (institutionalized) self-interest, but also

issues within unions themselves, as well as the interests of all poor and working people in

general, but without challenging the existence of the current social order. And these writers

argue that it would be extremely desirable for the US labor movement to move further and faster

toward this approach.21

However, there is one more set of scholars who have been influenced by Moody and are

writing, and who deserve to be mentioned at this time; these scholars are trying to think out

developments in unionism and social movements within Western Europe (see Dunn, 2007;

Mathers, 2007; Upchurch, Taylor and Mathers, 2009; Upchurch and Mathers, 2012.)

Without going into details, and while their empirical work appears sound, there are

considerable problems with these European theoretical efforts regarding unions. They show no

awareness of the early debate about the Southern labor centers, and thus adopt Moody’s

conceptualization. They approach unions in South Africa, the US, and several Western

European countries as though they developed according to similar processes, which they did

not.22 They privilege “class” and Marxist analysis (Upchurch and Mathers, 2012; Upchurch,

Taylor and Mathers, 2009: 14-21); even when they provide no empirical evidence to support this

position (see especially Mathers, 2007). They tend to focus on theory over empirical examples

(see especially Dunn, 2007), even though sometimes raising excellent points. They overemphasize

the state and its institutionalization of labor, while under-emphasizing dynamics

internal to unions (see Upchurch and Mathers, 2012). And they suggest the emergence of a new

type of unionism “to the left” of traditional “social democratic trade unionism,” which they call

“radicalized political unionism,” but which they never define (Upchurch, Taylor and Mathers,

2009: 168-174).23

With that understanding of the Moody-inspired version of social movement unionism,

however, it is now time to consider the “other” version of social movement unionism, as it

developed initially, before Moody, and as it has been developed subsequently.

B. Social Movement Unionism (SMU) by New Unions of the Global South

During the 1970s and ‘80s, a new type of trade unionism emerged among particular labor

centers in several developing countries. The most advanced versions were the CUT in Brazil,

KMU in the Philippines and COSATU in South Africa.24 In each of these countries, these new

labor centers were challenging employers, their respective state, and the global politicaleconomic-

cultural networks in which their countries were enmeshed.25

1. The Initial Debate

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, an international debate took place among scholars

concerned with or interested in the new labor movements that had emerged in these three

countries (Scipes, 2000b; Von Holdt, 2002: 285-287; for the original arguments, see Waterman,

1988, 1991; Lambert and Webster, 1988; Scipes, 1992a, b; and for an early discussion of them,

see Munck, 1988. See also Lambert, 1990; Scipes, 1996).26 Attempting to take advantage of the

then-emerging developments in social movement theory (Waterman, 1988), these scholars were

trying to theoretically understand the new phenomenon, and therefore advanced the concept of

“social movement unionism” to understand these new labor movements. Peter Waterman, a

long-time labor scholar and writer who coined the term, wanted to ensure that this concept was

theoretically developed so that it would be much more than merely a terminological substitute:

I am concerned that the term be defined in such a way that it provides both a new

theoretical tool and suggests a new political norm. In other words, that it be

distinguished from both traditional terminologies and traditional practices

(Waterman, 1988: 1).

Not surprisingly, the occasion of a new conceptualization yielded different

understandings of what was meant by “social movement unionism,” and the debate was an effort

to refine the conceptualization for possible further generalization. The intention of this effort

was to try to learn from the examples of the “advanced” labor movements of the late 20th

Century so as to inform subsequent efforts, so this already-existing knowledge could hopefully

be used to assist later-developing movements. However, unstated at the time but implicit in the

methodology, was that by clarifying the understanding of these new labor movements and the

social phenomena they represented, theorists could then reflect back on understandings of

previously-existing unionism around the globe and hopefully further develop these

understandings as well.

Rob Lambert and Eddie Webster, both of whom had been actively engaged in efforts to

build the new, non-racial unions in South Africa, developed an argument in response to

Waterman (1988), and presented a conceptualization of three types of trade unionism from their

work on unions in South Africa: they called these “orthodox,” “populist” and “political or social

movement” types of trade unionism.27 These types of unionism were conceptualized on the basis

of sets of particular practices (Lambert and Webster, 1988: 20-21).

This author later followed, attempting to refine the thinking of Waterman and

Lambert/Webster in two articles that were published in 1992:28 the Kasarinlan article, in which

the discussion was drawn out in detail and to the greatest extent (Scipes, 1992a), and the Critical

Sociology article, which differentiated social movement unionism from Leninist approaches

(Scipes, 1992b). As an American shopfloor worker (printing press operator), labor activist and

researcher/writer, this author was not satisfied with the Lambert/Webster conceptualization,

although it was seen as better than Waterman’s effort. Assessing Lambert and Webster’s work,

an alternative conceptualization that surpassed their’s was advanced. In this alternative, again

based on specific sets of practices, it was argued that there were three types of trade unionism in

the world: economic, political, and social movement unionism.

Economic trade unionism was defined as:

... unionism that accommodates itself to, and is absorbed by, the industrial

relations system of its particular country; which engages in political activities

within the dominant political system for the well-being of its members and its

institutional self but generally limits itself to immediate interests... (Scipes, 1992a:


Political unionism was defined as:

... unionism that is dominated by or subordinated to a political party or state, to

which the leaders give primary loyalty—and this includes both the Leninist and

“radical nationalist” versions. This results in generally but not totally neglecting

workplace issues for "larger" political issues (Scipes, 1992a: 127).

And then, after detailing the debate over “social movement unionism” (Scipes, 1992a:

127-133), this version of social movement unionism was defined as:

… a model of trade unionism that differs from the traditional forms of both

economic and political unionism. This model sees workers’ struggles as merely

one of many efforts to qualitatively change society, and not either the only site for

political struggle and social change or even the primary site. Therefore, it seeks

alliances with other social movements on an equal basis, and tries to join them in

practice when possible, both within the country and internationally.

Social movement unionism is trade unionism democratically controlled by

the membership and not by any external organization, which recognizes that the

struggles for control over workers’ daily work life, pay and conditions is

intimately connected with and cannot be separated from the national sociopolitical-

economic situation. This requires that struggles to improve the situation

of workers confront the national situation—combining struggles against

exploitation and oppression in the workplace with those confronting domination

both external from and internal to the larger society—as well as any dominating

relations within the unions themselves. Therefore, it is autonomous from capital,

the state and political parties, setting its own agenda from its own particular

perspective, yet willing to consider modifying its perspective on the basis of

negotiations with the social movements [and political parties] with which it is

allied with and which it has equal relations (Scipes, 1992a: 133).29

And this theoretical work was followed with a monograph on the KMU that attempted to use this

conceptualization to understand an empirical study (Scipes, 1996).

To my knowledge, however, there has not been any direct responses to this

conceptualization by the others in this initial debate, nor in whole by any other writers (Sluyter-

Beltrão, 2010: 6, uses an attenuated version of my concept), although my work has been widely

referenced, suggesting it is at least known by a number of writers who have tried to develop the

concept. Neither Lambert nor Webster, together or individually, have responded directly to my

conceptualization, positively or negatively, although Webster published an article discussing it in

the newsletter of Research Committee 44 (Labor Movements) of the International Sociological

Association (see Scipes, 2000b). Waterman (2004) appears to have responded to his

conceptualization if one just looks at the bibliography of this piece which, as Waterman notes

(2004: 243), “includes items beyond those referred to in the text above.” However, in the body

of his paper, instead of confronting my conceptualization or accurately describing my work,

Waterman accuses this author (along with Lambert) of “identification with” the KMU.30 My

conceptualization of SMU, as can be seen, does not fit into either of Waterman’s “Class/Popular-

Community” or “Class + New Social Movement” understandings (Waterman, 2004: 217-220)

from which Waterman builds his argument.31

In short, by ignoring a serious contribution to the debate on social movement unionism

instead of substantively addressing it, these theorists have, in turn, helped further confuse the


And at the same time, these other authors have shifted their foci from the subject at hand,

leaving a vacuum in the discussion, without substantially announcing their change in focus.

Waterman shifted his writings from focusing on sets of practices of the new unions to reflecting

on his experiences, joining this with his increased knowledge and learning from his previous

theoretical work; thus, his work has shifted from focusing on sets of practices to normative

prescriptions of how he thinks this new unionism should develop (see Waterman, 1993), and has

subsequently tried to apply this globally in what he calls “new social unionism” (Waterman,

1999), and then later “new international social unionism” (Waterman, 2004, 2008).32

From writing an important article on social movement unionism together, Rob Lambert

and Eddie Webster (1988) have shifted as well. Lambert (1990), in a strong article, applied the

concept of social movement unionism to the KMU, but as far as is known, never did further

research in the Philippines, and subsequently shifted to writing about SIGTUR (Southern

Initiative on Globalization and Trade Union Rights)33 and global social movement unionism.

Webster, along with Lambert, has been writing about SIGTUR (Lambert and Webster, 2001; see

Lambert, 2002), and has written about strategic unionism with others (see Joffe, Maller and

Webster, 1995; for an evaluation of this concept from a case study in South Africa, see Von

Holdt, 2003). Webster and Lambert, along with Andries Bezuidenhout (2008), conducted an

innovative three-country study on the “white goods” industry. Webster, most recently, has

returned to the SMU debate (with Peter Fairbrother), but without addressing many of the

developments since he last published on the subject in 1988 (see Lambert and Webster, 1988;

Fairbrother and Webster, 2008).

For those who know of Lambert and Webster’s involvement in the early debate, as well

as Waterman’s, but who have not gone back to read their earlier writings, there is a tendency to

assume they have been on a consistent path to develop the concept of social movement unionism,

when they clearly have not.

2. Subsequent Debate and Development of Social Movement Unionism in regard to the

Specific Labor Centers of the Global South (post 1992)

However, the general effort to develop the concept of social movement unionism in

regards to this “new unionism” in the Global South has continued beyond the initial effort,

particularly regarding unionism in South Africa, and has continued to be seen as a valid

perspective by a number of labor researchers (for South Africa, see Hirschsohn, 1998, 2007;

Pillay, 2006: 169-172, 2013; Von Holdt, 2002, 2003; and see Barchiesi, 2007; Bramble, 2003;

and Wood, 2003; and for Brazil, see Sluyter-Beltrão, 2010).34

In an article published in 1998, Philip Hirschsohn argues that COSATU (Congress of

South African Trade Unions) exemplifies social movement unionism (Hirschsohn, 1998). Not

surprisingly, but nonetheless, theoretically important, Hirschsohn builds on the earlier work on

Brazil, the Philippines and South Africa. His work adds to the conception of social movement


The existing literature of SMU either explains how or why the phenomenon has

emerged and what distinguishes it from economic and political unionism, but fails

to explain its organizational development systematically. Furthermore, there has

been limited effort to integrate the rich [social movement] literature into the

analysis of SMU. I adopt the political process approach to SMs to explain the

origins, emergence, and development of SMU in South Africa (Hirschsohn, 1998:


Unaware of Hirschsohn’s research, yet trying to further develop my conceptualization of

social movement unionism—and to critically test this conceptualization to see if was applicable

outside of the Philippines—this author wrote a subsequent article that has only been published on

the Internet, reducing its impact. In this article, it was argued that COSATU of South Africa also

fit my conceptualization of social movement unionism—strengthening the validity of the

conceptualization—at least up until 199235 (Scipes, 2001).

In other words, while not trying to put these labor movements into a theoretical straightjacket—

taking an activist-centered, but not determined, approach—this author argues that the

workers in these specific labor centers in these particular developing countries collectively see

themselves as actively trying to change the social order in which they are located as well as the

global political-economic-cultural networks in which their respective countries are enmeshed.

Scipes argues that three criteria must be met before a labor center can be accurately

described as embodying social movement unionism: (1) that this understanding of challenging

the existing social order is at least the general understanding of workers and their leaders across

the unions of the entire labor center; (2) that this understanding is developed and adopted

through an interactive process between leaders, both formal and informal (i.e., activists), and

worker-members; i.e., that it is not imposed by the top-down by leaders on members; and (3) that

this understanding predominates within the unions that lead any particular labor center (Scipes,

2001). The level of understanding could go beyond that, and certainly any educational program

developed from this perspective and carried out within the unions across the labor center would

try to generalize this understanding among all members—the KMU, at least, has taken this

approach in its educational program (see Scipes, 1986b, 1996).

In short, workers and leaders in unions that lead particular labor centers have come to a

general understanding in which they see themselves as actively trying to change the social order

in which they are located, as well as the global political-economic-cultural networks in which

their respective countries are enmeshed. Thus, these workers see themselves and their unions as

being social change agents, but agents on behalf of themselves and their allies, and therefore not

agents for external groups, such as a political party or a political candidate. They have

collectively organized to change their world, with the help of allies at home and abroad, and to

engage in mutual solidarity and support.

The discussion of social movement unionism has continued, with Karl von Holdt

examining the development of SMU inside of a steel complex in South Africa, Highveld Steel.

Here, Hirschsohn’s plea for “systematic organizational development” gets met. In a carefully

constructed monograph based on a case study,36 Von Holdt defines social movement unionism

as a highly mobilized form of unionism based in a substantial expansion of semiskilled

manufacturing work, which emerged in opposition to authoritarian regimes

and repressive workplaces in the developing world. Social movement unionism is

fiercely independent, but establishes alliances with community and political

organizations. It demonstrates a commitment to internal democratic practices and

to the broader democratic and socialist transformation of authoritarian societies

(Von Holdt, 2003: 9).37

Von Holdt shows the erosion of social movement unionism during the period of transition to a

post-apartheid society as NUMSA (the national union to which the metal workers’ union at

Highveld is affiliated) and COSATU shift towards “strategic unionism” wherein the union

participates and engages in relations with both the state and management (Von Holdt, 2003:

305; see also Bramble, 2003, as well as Joffe, Maller and Webster, 1995).

The discussion of SMU has been supported, at least in part, by Geoffrey Wood’s (2003)

article on shop floor democracy in South Africa, and Sakhela Buhlungu’s edited collection

(2006) on “trade unions and democracy”—see, in particular, Devan Pillay’s piece, pp. 169-

172—as well as Hirschsohn’s work in South African auto and clothing plants to support his

earlier claims (Hirschsohn, 2007). Pillay’s (2013) latest piece argues that COSATU exemplified

SMU in the 1980s, but subsequently has returned to political unionism, although he also argues

that the previous experiences of SMU have not been eradicated within COSATU, and that there

remains the possibility that COSATU can against return to its social movement type of unionism.

These approaches differ still from the latest contributions by Peter Fairbrother, Peter

Waterman and Edward Webster (Fairbrother and Webster, 2008; Fairbrother, 2008; Waterman,

2008). These three scholars, as part of an international scholarly forum, try to “think out” the

concept of social movement unionism. Yet, while very much aware of struggles in the Global

South, they make a mistake similar to that of Moody (1997), yet from the other side: they don’t

question the generalization of the concept to unions in both the Global North and South, nor do

they distinguish between the different types of unionism in the Global South (see Collombat,

2011, for a comparative study that specifically addresses this). In other words, they think they

can generalize the conceptualization, once the “true nature” of social movement unions is

explicated, which they try to do.

Nonetheless, regardless of how well or how poorly they do, the fact remains that there are

a range of scholars who see the concept of social movement unionism as a vibrant concept, and

one with enough “meat on the bones” to fight over. This author agrees. That is why it is so

important to understand it on all levels—and to distinguish between what it is and is not.

C. Synopsis

There are three important points that must be recognized here. First is the qualitative

difference between the practices of these particular labor centers in these developing countries

and the practices of unions in North America. Specifically, specific labor centers in these

developing countries—again, CUT, KMU, and COSATU—developed a type of trade unionism

that consciously seeks to change the social order in which they are located, and the relations of

their respective country with others.38

While nothing theoretically precludes any “developed country” union or labor center

from consciously seeking to change the existing social order, the fact is that none of the

contemporary unions in North America have been or are challenging the existing social order,

nor are they challenging the global political-economic-cultural networks in which their countries

are enmeshed. Some North American unions are, interestingly, beginning to challenge aspects of

the neo-liberal regime—such as the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) and the shift

of manufacturing to outside of the US—that directly affect them and their members,39 but this is

far from what has been developed by workers in these three specific labor centers. Thus, the

qualitative differences in practices must be recognized, and terminology recognizing these

qualitative differences must be adopted, so as to illuminate and distinguish between these

different sets of practices.

Second, researchers on unions in the developing countries have continued to work from

this social movement unionism framework when regarding these particular labor centers in these

respective countries. Thus, this concept is established and remains useful theoretically, even if

the proponents have not agreed upon one specific definition. Hopefully, this clarification of

SMU will be seen as substantial, and that future scholars will use this in their work as they go


And third, and following from the above, the different practices between these particular

labor centers and progressive efforts in North America (and elsewhere) must be addressed on a

theoretical level: it is not sufficient to understand them only at descriptive or analytical levels if

we want to try to generalize findings from them to help guide developments of other labor

centers and their affiliated unions. The trade union practices of social movement unionism-based

labor centers are practices qualitatively different from other existing unions and labor centers,

especially in the United States, and require a theoretical conceptualization that recognizes these


And now that we have clarified the above, it is time to provide a theoretical

understanding of trade unionism, and to locate efforts in North America in their proper


2. Overcoming Theoretical Confusion

To overcome the theoretical confusion discussed above, it is useful to deploy a taxonomy

of global trade unionism—encompassing economic, political, and social movement unions—

which allows commentators to theoretically locate the unionism they are referring to by separate

type (see particularly Scipes, 1992a, 2001). Thus, once located, hopes, expectations, and

challenges can be more realistically addressed for that particular type of unionism—one can

focus on specificities, rather than simply on general union aims.

It is argued that the types of trade unionism can be distinguished by variations regarding

which forces determine organizational dynamics, the relations to the established industrial

relations system of the country, and relationship of the labor center to country’s social order:

Table 1: Types of Trade Unionism (based on sets of practices)40

Economic Political Social Movement



determined by

Members Subordinated to and/or

subjugates itself to an

“outside” political party


Relationship to




system of the



to established IR


Challenges IR system

until its political party

gains political control,

and then accommodates

to it

Challenges IR system

Relationship to

social order of

the country


to social order,

although tries to

improve situation

of its members

within such order

Challenges social order

until its political party

gains political control,

and then accommodates

to it—tries to improve

situation of its members

within such order

Challenges social order and

international politicaleconomic-


networks in which country is

enmeshed. Builds counterhegemonic



power through location in


sphere of society;

represents and fights for

“larger” worker, urban poor

and peasant interests; and

demonstrates willingness to

use such power to challenge

established social order in

conjunction with political

allies, both domestic and


It seems, however, that delineating by type, while necessary, is not sufficient. Different

sets of practices can be empirically distinguished between unionism types, but are there

differences in union behavior within unionism types?

It is argued there can be qualitative differences in union behavior within union types,41

and to delineate behaviors within types, this author has advanced the concept trade union “form”:

forms are different sets of practices within a particular type of trade unionism (Scipes, 2003).

Thus, there are two different levels of trade union conceptualizations—“types” and “forms”—

with forms being subsets of types.

Therefore, if social movement unionism in North America is not the same type as social

movement unionism developed in these particular labor centers in certain developing countries,

as established above, then what is it; how can it be understood? To understand these recent

developments in North American unionism, a comparative-historical study specifically designed

to establish theoretically the concept of trade union “forms” is discussed below, and the

implications are helpful for today.

Part II: Social Justice Unionism

To try to resolve the question of just what is going on in North America—again,

confining our comments to the US and Canada, but not Mexico—we suggest that the new

unionism emerging in North America is not SMU, but rather one form of the economic type of

trade unionism. Therefore, the term SMU should not be applied to labor centers or unions in

North America to date, whose unionism is of a qualitatively different type.

The second part of this paper reports a study completed in 2003 that was designed to

specifically see if it were possible to identify and delineate different “forms” of the economic

type of trade unionism, and to theoretically distinguish them. It involves a naturalistic,

historical-comparative study of union organizing in steel and meatpacking in the Chicago area as

developed during the “CIO period,” 1933-1955.

A. Steel and Packinghouse Unionism in the Chicago Area, 1933-1955

By examining the emergence and development of unions in the steel and packinghouse

industries in the Chicago area between 1933-55 for my Ph.D. dissertation, this author sought to

discover if these unions differed in how they addressed racial oppression in the union, workplace

and community and, if so, how this could be theoretically explained (Scipes, 2003).42

To do this in light of the discussion in the first part of this paper, these unions had to be

theoretically located. Economic trade unionism has been defined by this author as:

... unionism that accommodates itself to, and is absorbed by, the industrial

relations system of its particular country; which engages in political activities

within the dominant political system for the well-being of its members and its

institutional self but generally limits itself to immediate interests... (Scipes, 1992a:


In this study from Chicago, it was specifically confirmed that both unions—Steel

Workers Organizing Committee/United Steelworkers of America (SWOC/USWA) and

Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee/United Packinghouse Workers of America

(PWOC/UPWA)—were of the economic type: both accepted the industrial relations system of

the particular country (the United States), and both engaged in political activities within the

dominant political system for the well-being of their members and their institutional selves—

challenging neither the established social order, nor the legitimacy of the established industrial

relations system. Neither union has been dominated by nor subjugated itself to an external

organization (political unionism), nor did either try to challenge the dominant social order (social

movement unionism). Accordingly, both unions were recognized as being representatives of the

economic type of trade unions.

A naturalistic, historical-comparative study of two comparable trade unions was

undertaken to see if two qualitatively different sets of practices (forms) could be delineated

among these unions that were of the economic type of unionism, and if they could be

theoretically differentiated. To do this, it looked at the development of two unions in fairly

similar industries (regarding the process-nature of production)43 and with similarities in

workplace conditions (long hours, low pay, dangerous conditions) in the same area (the greater

Chicago area, including Northwest Indiana), during the same time (1933-55), and with workers

drawn from the exact same labor pool (white ethnic groups from Eastern and Southern Europe,

African Americans from the rural southern US, and a smaller group of Mexican workers). This

also meant that the workers shared the same general demographics and cultures: similar

immigration origins and histories, same ethnic and racial compositions, same languages, same

religious backgrounds, same cultures, same educational attainment, same skill levels, etc. In

other words, the two unions were in industries more similar than generally expected, and their

respective memberships were as similar as possible in a natural setting (Scipes, 2003: 45-50).

An issue was sought in which the two unions differed. How each union addressed the

issue of racial oppression, in the workplace, the union, and the community was examined. A

close examination showed that the unions radically differed: the packinghouse workers

“aggressively tackled this social evil that had caused and was continuing to cause so much harm

and hurt to its members, both workers of color and whites,” while the steelworkers “either

acquiesced to or actively collaborated in the continued existence of racial oppression” (Scipes,

2003: 343-344).

However, it was found that the unions not only qualitatively differed in how they

addressed racial oppression, but they also differed qualitatively in the form of trade unionism

that each had developed. And when the differences of approaches to racial oppression were

explained, it was found that the form of trade unionism developed determined whether or not

each union would address racial oppression.

B. Different Conceptualizations of Trade Unionism

This study from Chicago focuses on both internal factors and processes by which a union

is constructed, and the results it has achieved; accordingly

… its explanation differs from those who argue that structural position determines

development, and [differs] from those who focus on the results of leadership

differentiation and political struggles around institutional issues. It is argued that

it is the collective identity suggested by activists, when negotiated and finally

adopted by rank and file members, that creates an organizational collective

identity (see Melucci, 1989, 1995). [From] this organizational collective identity,

[members] establish the form of trade unionism chosen and this, in turn—by

mediating members’ understandings and actions—effects trade union activities in

regard to other relationships; in this case, it is argued that the different forms of

unionism effect how a union approaches working people’s oppression in general,

and in this project, racial oppression in the union, the workplace and in the local

community (Scipes, 2003: 28).

Close examination of these two unions’ respective development reveals qualitatively

different ways of understanding unionism.44 The argument is that a union’s willingness to

address the issue of racial oppression—as well as other non-economistic caused oppression, such

as gender oppression—depends on the organizational form of trade unionism that it has

developed—whether its members have adopted what is known as “business” or “social justice”

unionism.45 These forms of trade unionism are based on different conceptualizations of trade

unionism, and the processes by which they are adopted, and are developed below.

While it is well known that, in general, members of the proletariat have different interests

than do members of the bourgeoisie, and that these interests are antagonistic (Marx and Engels,

1978/1848), this does not necessarily hold in specific situations. Workers, as we know, can be

opposed to their bosses; can ignore/disregard their bosses; can work with them; and/or a

combination of these different approaches. And they can act in solidarity with other workers,

ignore/disregard them, and work against them; and/or a combination of these different

approaches. In short, we cannot assume that workers’ general interest holds specifically, or at all

times and all places (see Hodson, 1991).46 Accordingly, by examining the social processes by

which a group of workers construct their own organizations, we can see how they define their

particular interests within specific situations.

This approach is supported on a theoretical level by Alberto Melucci’s (1989, 1995) work

on social movements. It is argued that Melucci provides guidance here for the establishment of

trade unions and their amalgamated organizations, as he can, arguably, for any organization.47

Melucci critiques most research on social movements because it assumes any social movement is

an empirical reality; he argues that to understand a social movement, one must understand the

constitutive processes by which any social movement emerges and develops (Melucci, 1989).

Similarly, this author argues that it is the constitutive processes that determine how an

organization emerges, which will effect subsequent developments. Key to this in regard to the

development of a trade union (or similar organizations) is the form of unionism chosen to guide

subsequent development.

The form of trade unionism chosen is based on different conceptualizations of trade

unionism. Both conceptualizations—business and social justice unionism—see unions as

organizations created by workers and based in the production sphere of society, but one sees the

unions taking a narrow approach, limiting its concerns and operations to benefit those groupings

that are dominant within the union, and even sometimes at the expense of other working people

(“business unionism”), while the other takes a broad approach, working for the well-being of

their members and working people in general throughout society (“social justice unionism”).

In my 2003 study, business unionism was formally defined as:

... one form of the economic type of trade unionism. While its internal decisionmaking

processes can range from a top-down, results-oriented model to a bottomup,

process-oriented model, its scope is narrow, limiting its interests to those of

the dominant members of the organization, and not necessarily to all members of

the organization. These self-defined interests can be seen as separate from those

of working people as a whole, and sometimes even opposed to this larger group

interest. Because of this limited vision of trade unionism, business unionism

depends on the ability of unions to win demands by themselves, or if they get the

support of other organizations which adopt the business union’s interests and

goals as corresponding to their own, it is without the union making any

commitment of reciprocation to its allies. It is a form of trade unionism

ultimately based on individualism, albeit expressed in a collective manner

(emphasis added) (Scipes, 2003: 373-374).

Social justice unionism was formally defined as another

... form of the economic type of trade unionism. While its internal decisionmaking

processes can range from a top-down, results-oriented model to a bottomup,

process-oriented and democratic model, its scope is broad, seeing the

necessity of addressing the needs and concerns of all its members, in the union, in

the workplace and in the community. In short, these self-defined interests are

integrated with those of working people as a whole. It builds support through

solidarity with other people-focused organizations and projects, working in

mutual efforts to improve the well-being of all concerned. It is a form of trade

unionism ultimately based on collectivity and mutual respect (emphasis added)

(Scipes, 2003: 375).48

The adoption of a particular conceptualization of unionism by any union at best is a

product of a three-way interaction between members, activists (informal leaders) and formal

leaders,49 although obviously, once established, formal union leadership in some cases can

encourage or hinder membership and/or activist involvement in such choice. In other words, the

form of trade unionism chosen is more than just a product of the presence or absence of activists

and their particular politics: activists are important, but how they are facilitated or constrained

by formal leaders is a factor, as is how the membership responds or does not respond to their

ideas/activities/proposals, etc.

At the same time, this is a process critically affected by how collective decisions are

made, whether inclusively from the bottom-upwards, or exclusively from the top-downwards:

unions whose positions are based on inclusive rank-and-file participation and collective decisionmaking

are more likely to have greater membership participation and maintain vibrant internal

democracy than are unions that exclude rank-and-file members from decision-making processes

(see Ross, 2008: 148-153). Further, support for any form of unionism based on inclusion and

collective decision-making is much more likely to survive difficult times than those with

exclusive decision-making.

This process is developed in detail elsewhere (Scipes, 2003). However, it is important to

recognize that the steel workers’ union adopted a business union (narrow) conceptualization of

trade unionism early-on, while the packinghouse workers’ union adopted a social justice (broad)

conceptualization from the beginning.50 These findings were developed after a close and

extensive analysis of the development of each of these unions in the Chicago area across the

period 1933-55 (Scipes, 2003: 139-314).

One final question remains: while these forms of trade unionism are obviously different,

how can we make sure they are qualitatively different; i.e., how can we be sure the differences

are significant? To address this question, in addition to a very detailed historical examination of

the development of the respective unions—which showed these two unions were unquestionably

different—this author developed a 30-point measurement scale to see if the differences were

significant.51 The measurement scale used business unionism as the referent, and required a

union to get a minimum of 20 points out of 30 to be confirmed as a social justice union (Scipes,

2003: 412-415). The findings: “when measured across the years 1936-1954, the packinghouse

workers’ organizations in Chicago scored 29 out of a possible 30 points, while the steelworkers’

organizations in the same region scored only two out of 30 points” (Scipes, 2003: 52).52 The

findings were deemed significant.

Accordingly, the argument herein is that the form of unionism based on a broad

conceptualization of trade unionism (i.e., social justice unionism)—creates unions that are

qualitatively more likely to address racial (and/or other) oppression than are unions based a

narrow conceptualization of trade unionism (business unionism).

C. The Correct Precedent: United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA)

Despite not getting a lot of attention at least until 1997 within the genre of work that

perhaps can be called collectively “CIO Studies,” unionism in meatpacking—in both the

Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee between 1937 and 1943 and, after October 1943,

the United Packinghouse Workers of America—developed further than almost any other union

within the CIO. The union was by far the best on addressing racial oppression—by 1961, 100

percent of all UPWA collective bargaining agreements banned discrimination based on race,

creed and national origin, not only in employment but even in employment applications—and

one of the better unions in addressing gender oppression, although their work on gender was not

as strong as on race. It was responsible for considerable economic gains, and definitely

improved working conditions. Throughout its entire existence—until it was forced to join the

Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen in 1968 due to industry restructuring (the

Amalgamated, in turn, was one of the founding members of the United Food & Commercial

Workers’ Union in 1979)—the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) was a

democratically-run, rank and file-led, militant union that not only addressed issues in the

workplace, but also in the union and the communities in which it was located (see Street, 1993;

Halpern, 1997; Horowitz, 1997; Halpern and Horowitz, eds., 1999; and Scipes, 2003).

As suggested in the introduction to this paper, the relatively recent “emergence” of a

militant and broad unionism that addresses issues in the workplace, union and community is, in

reality, the re-emergence of the form of trade unionism developed by the United Packinghouse

Workers of America and a few others—such as the United Electrical Workers (see Filipelli,

1994), the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (see Wellman, 1995), and Local 22 of

the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers (see Korstad, 2003)—in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Does this conceptualization—social justice unionism—better describe the forms of

unionism currently re-emerging in North America than social movement unionism?

D. Discussion: Social Movement Unionism or Social Justice Unionism?

To answer this question, we must turn to the work of Kim Moody, the writer who

popularized the term “social movement unionism” in North America, to see if he can provide

guidance to resolve this question. Unfortunately, Moody’s work does not give us the tools to

resolve this issue, nor does the work of others who have built on Moody’s conceptualization.

His conceptualization of social movement unionism is quite limited, as is Seidman’s (1994) on

which Moody’s is based: neither are theoretically located; they are presented only at an

analytical level.

Nonetheless, there is another way to approach this issue. It is argued that using a

theoretically-based model offers us a way forward to resolve this issue. The way to resolution is

to remember that all unions can be theoretically categorized as one of three types of unions:

economic, political, or social movement (Scipes, 1992a, b, 1996, 2001). As indicated above,

these North American unions do not fit into either the social movement or political types of trade

unionism, but do fit in the economic type.

However, within the economic type of trade unionism, where do they fit? This author

has argued that there are two forms or subsets of the economic type of unionism: business and

social justice unionism. Based on the analysis above, and learning from the experiences of the

United Packinghouse Workers of America, it seems quite clear that they fit in the social justice

form of economic trade unionism.

Accordingly, social justice unionism is the best term to describe the broad form of

economic trade unionism currently developing in North America. Accordingly, it is argued that

now and in the foreseeable future, those writing on this “new” unionism in the US and Canada

(and Western Europe) should use the term “social justice unionism,” replacing the term “social

movement unionism,” and that the term “social movement unionism” be reserved for those types

of unionism that seek qualitative social, political and/or systemic economic change in their

respective social order as well as in the global political-economic-cultural networks.

E. Synopsis

In the second part of this paper, revolving around the term “social justice unionism,” we

delved into US labor history to seek historical precedents for developments in contemporary

North American trade unionism. Utilizing a comparative-historical study of the development of

unionism in steel and meatpacking in the Chicagoland area between 1933 and 1955 (Scipes,

2003), we discovered qualitative differences between the two unions in their conceptualization of

unionism, in their decision-making processes, and their approaches to racial oppression in the

workplace, union and communities. Based on close archival work on the development of both

unions, and developing a measurement scale of their practices, we established both the concept

of trade union form and established that the unionism of these two labor organizations differed

qualitatively, enabling us to theoretically establish both business unionism and social justice

unionism as two forms of the economic type of trade unionism.

We then argued that the form of trade unionism developed by the United Packinghouse

Workers of America, as well as a few others, should serve as the historical predecessor of

contemporary progressive unionism in North America.

And finally, we argued that a theory-based approach to trade unionism allowed us to

delineate today’s progressive unionism as social justice unionism.


This paper has argued that as North American labor writers and theorists have tried to

develop “new” thinking about trade unionism that has emerged in Canada and the United States

over the past two decades, their chosen terminology has conflicted with previously-developed

terminology. This has led to the use of the same term to refer to two qualitatively different types

of trade unionism, therefore causing considerable theoretical confusion and undermining clear

communication by activists and labor scholars globally. This, it has been argued, hinders our

understanding of global trade unionism, and it was suggested that it should be reconsidered. At

the same time, because “social movement unionism” in North America has not been placed

within a global theoretical context, writers have been, in fact, unknowingly overriding a

theoretically developed model with one that has not been theoretically developed.

To untangle the problem of terminological confusion and to advance theoretical

understanding, this work took four general steps over two parts of this paper. First, emergence

of the “social movement unionism” school in North America was discussed (Nissen, 2003), with

particular attention being paid to the work of Kim Moody (1997). Much of the work to establish

social movement unionism in North America, unfortunately, was conducted without knowledge

of the already-existing theoretical work done on social movement unionism, a term used to

describe the “new unionism” that developed in three specific labor centers—CUT in Brazil,

KMU in the Philippines, and COSATU in South Africa—in the 1970s and ‘80s.

In step two, we discussed the origins of the concept of “social movement unionism.”

Efforts to understand the unionism of these specific labor centers led to an initial theoretical

debate that was discussed, as were subsequent efforts to refine the concept of social movement

unionism. By examining the development of social movement unionism, we were able to restore

the concept to its original purpose, which was to understand the type of unionism developed by

three specific labor centers. However, we were able to use this empirical work done on these

particular labor centers to further develop global labor theory. Accordingly, in the first part of

this paper, this led to a theoretical understanding of global trade unionism, seeing there being

three different types of trade unionism globally: economic, political and social movement

unionism (Scipes, 1992a, b, 1996, 2001).

After theoretically distinguishing between different types of trade unionism to help

resolve the issue, we asked: could there be qualitative differences within the types of trade

unionism identified? The theoretical concept of trade union form was advanced, suggesting an

affirmative answer to the question, in the second part of this paper. A form was advanced as a

subset of a type of trade unionism. To establish this theoretical concept empirically, a

comparative-historical study of the development of two CIO unions was briefly considered,

identifying two qualitatively different forms of the economic type of trade unionism—business

unionism and social justice unionism—and the theoretical concept of trade union form was

established (Scipes, 2003).53

Fourth and finally, arguing that a theoretical model is the only orientation developed to

date that is capable of giving us tools to resolve this issue, it was suggested that this theoretical

model proposed herein be adopted to provide resolution on the issue: accordingly, the broadscope

form of trade unionism that is currently developing in North America should now be seen

theoretically as a form of economic trade unionism properly titled “social justice unionism.”

Thus, this author argues that labor writers and theorists should use the term “social justice

unionism” for union activities (where appropriate) in North America as well as in other

countries, and no longer use the term “social movement unionism” to describe union activities in

North America.54

This allows us to recognize the different practices among unions in a number of

countries, and to understand theoretically the form of trade unionism currently developing

among some unions in North America, while not ignoring or denigrating the accomplishments of

workers elsewhere. Once the literature ceases to mis-identify global unionism as identical to that

occurring in North America, linguistic precision will enhance the accuracy of these writers

discussing global labor issues.

Appendix: Measuring Different Forms of Trade Unionism55

A 20-question scale has been developed by which to measure different forms of

[economic] trade unionism. While a study involving more than two unions would need a more

elaborate scale devised to help determine relationships among the unions, this is not needed in a

qualitative study with only two unions being studied. Nevertheless, there are several issues that

need to be specifically considered in any effort to distinguish between business and social justice

forms of unionism.

The sets of questions have been divided into two categories—institutional and

programmatic concerns—so as to indicate differences between how things are formally

organized and how they work in practice. Ideally, a union is formally organized in a way so as

to encourage its program, but whether it is remains an empirical question. In any case, it is

suggested that actual practice is the more important of the two factors—i.e., any conception of

“structural determinism” is rejected—and thus double the weight is accorded to the answers in

the “programmatic concerns” section.

In asking the following questions, business unionism is used as the referent, so a specific

threshold must be reached for a union to qualify as a social justice union: it is assumed that a

US-based union is based on business unionism unless it “proves” otherwise. Accordingly, in this

measurement scale, one or two points (depending on section) is awarded for attributes associated

with social justice unionism. There are 30 possible points than can be accumulated, and to

qualify for classification as a social justice union, a minimum of 20 points (66.7%) must be

attained: this sets the threshold at a high but not impossible level, suggesting that the finding

that a union is a social justice union denotes a qualitative difference between that and a business


A key feature in any determination is the issue of union democracy (Lipset, Trow and

Coleman, 1956/1962). Judith Stepan-Norris and Maurice Zeitlin (1995: 830-836) specifically

focus on requirements for union democracy based on the work of Franz Neuman. They argue

the standard for union democracy “is the same standard met by any political system qualifying as

a democracy.” Therefore, union democracy must combine (1) a democratic constitution, with

“guarantees of basic civil liberties and political rights”; (2) an institutionalized opposition, which

is “the freedom of members to criticize and debate union officials and to organize, oppose, and

replace officers through freely contested elections among contending political associations”; and

(3) an active membership, which they define as “maximum participation by its members in the

actual exercise of power within the union and in making the decisions that affect them” (Stepan-

Norris and Zeitlin, 1995: 830). This measurement scale includes these requirements in it, but

then goes beyond them as well. While ultimately I believe that all 20 questions relate to the

issue of union democracy, I believe that the following relate to the Stepan-Norris/Zeitlin

explication: 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 17, 18 and 19.

However, the question must be asked: is “social justice unionism” simply the same as

“union democracy”? No. On my scale, affirmative responses to these items identified

immediately above provide 15 of 30 possible points. This, a social justice union

conceptualization, by definition (i.e., needing a minimum of 20 points on my scale), requires

more than just affirmative answers to these specific questions; a social justice conceptualization

cannot be reached through union democracy alone.

Institutional concerns

1. How was the union founded?

• 0 points if founded by another union

• 1 point if the union is the product of rank and file efforts or 1 point if the initial

organization bequeathed by the founding union is rejected by the subsequent


2. Does the Union Constitution ensure freedom of speech and association for members?

• 0 points if no

• 1 point if yes

3. Are leaders elected or appointed?

• 0 point if they are generally appointed

• 1 point if they are generally elected

4. What is the length of term of office?

• 0 points if three or more years

• 1 point if less than three years

5. Do top officers reflect rank and file racial demographics?

• 0 points if rarely

• 1 point if generally

6. Do top officers reflect rank and file gender demographics?

• 0 points if rarely

• 1 point if generally

7. How often are union conventions held?

• 0 points if at a three year or longer interval

• 1 point if more often than three years

8. Are elections for top-level officers publicly held with roll call votes recorded?

• 0 points if rarely

• 1 point if usually

9. Must collective bargaining agreements (contracts) be ratified by the general

membership covered?

• 0 points if no

• 1 point if yes

10. Are members encouraged to participate in union activities?

• 0 point if generally no

• 1 point if generally yes

Programmatic concerns:

11. Do union leaders try to ascertain members’ concerns and desires?

• 0 if rarely

• 2 points if usually

12. Do union concerns extend beyond workplace issues such as wages, working

conditions and benefits?

• 0 points if rarely

• 2 points if usually

13. Does the union actively target continuing discriminations (such as race, gender)?

• 0 points if rarely

• 2 points if usually

14. Does the union develop and present on-going education programs?

• 0 points if rarely

• 2 points if usually

15. Does the union initiate leadership development programs?

• 0 points if rarely

• 2 points if usually

16. Does the union join with grassroots community-based groups to work for social

and/or economic justice?

• 0 points if rarely

• 2 points if usually

17. Is convention discussion limited to officers’ and committees’ concerns, or are broad

rank and file concerns addressed?

• 0 points if generally limited

• 2 points if generally broad

18. Are issues discussed/debated on floor of convention or confined tin committees?

• 0 points if generally confined to committees

• 2 points if generally debated on the floor of convention

19. Are bargaining committees limited to full-time staff/officers or broadened to include

rank and filers and/or stewards?

• 0 points if generally limited

• 2 points if generally broadened

20. When bargaining committees are broad, are members active participants or for

“decoration” (i.e., mainly observers)?

• 0 points if generally for decoration

• 2 points if generally active

From answers to the above questions, a union can be categorized as either a business or

social justice union: if a union is awarded 19 or fewer points, it is classified as a business union;

20 or more points gets it classified as a social justice union.


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Movements: Labor Organizing at a Private University in Los Angeles.” Social Problems, Vol.

49, No. 3, August: 374-394.

Wood, Geoffrey. 2003. “Solidarity, Representatively and Accountability: The Origins, State and

Implication of Shopfloor Democracy within the Congress of South African Trade Unions.”

Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 45, No. 3, September: 326-343.

1 For a set of articles by an American labor activist that covers many of the struggles and much of the writings on

US labor over the past 30 years—particularly by activists, but also some academic studies—and which

particularly focuses on issues related to revitalization, see Early, 2009. See also his more recent collection:

Early, 2013.

The broadest compilation of writings on the contemporary US labor movement (along with a fair collection

on selected labor movements around the world) that this author is aware of, including books and articles, is the

on-line “Contemporary Labor Issues Bibliography” at (accessed

November 28, 2014). While this does not claim to be complete, the listings cover a wide range of particular

subject areas, are updated fairly regularly, and include writings by academics as well as labor activists. These

references are also linked to Internet sources whenever possible.

It should be noted that, the Canadian labor movement has been facing many of the problems faced by that

in the US, although they are not in quite as bad of shape (see Gindin, 1995). Nonetheless, other Canadian

scholars—see, for example, Fairbrother and Yates, eds. (2003), Kumar and Murray (2006), Kumar and Schenk,

eds. (2006), and Ross (2008)—have joined the discussion about labor movement revitalization, focusing

primarily on the Canadian labor movement. As Ross’ bibliography (2008: 153-157) indicates, this is in

interaction with the relevant American literature as well as their own.

2 There is growing interest in “social movement unionism” (SMU) in developed countries outside of North

America—see in particular Vandenberg (2006) for Sweden; and Dunn, 2007; Mathers, 2007; Upchurch, Taylor

and Mathers, 2009; and Upchurch and Mathers, 2012 for Western Europe in general—but Ince (2007) says it is

mostly confined to the “Anglophone world.” An important part of this is due to the popularization and

dissemination of the concept by Kim Moody (1997), and the North American network in and around the

English-language labor activist journal, Labor Notes. Contemporary discussions of social movement unionism

herein, unless specifically identified otherwise, are confined to North America, but it is important to recognize

that discussions on SMU in the developed countries are not just confined to Canada and the United States.

3 This author served as an elected board member of RC 44 from 2006-2010, being elected at the International

Sociological Association’s World Congress of Sociology in Durban, South Africa in 2006.

4 Although the South Korean labor movement was included in my earliest writings on social movement

unionism (see Scipes, 1992a, b)—based largely on early reports of the 1987 “Great Worker Struggle”—and

Siedman (1994: 264-272) suggested that social movement unionism would emerge in that country, this author

has been convinced by Hagen Koo (2001), author of a wonderful study of the Korean labor movement, that the

South Korean unions and labor centers should not be classified as exemplars of social movement unionism:

“the South Korean labor movement did not develop … what Seidman (1994) calls ‘social movement

unionism’” (Koo, 2001: 203).

Nonetheless, Korean workers have engaged in heroic struggles to build independent, worker-controlled

unions, and while they do not meet the requirements of social movement unionism, their struggles still must be

respected. For writings on these struggles and how Korean workers developed class consciousness, see Koo

(2001); for an excellent account of the emergence and development of the garment and textile workers’ union in

South Korea, mostly populated by young women and which played a central role in the emergence of popular,

democratic and independent (from the state) trade unionism, see Chun (2003). Although written from a more

traditional industrial relations approach, see Song (2002) for an overview of developments in Korean unions.

Park (2007), on the other hand, examines the KCTU (Korean Confederation of Trade Unions) experience, and

argues that the KCTU experience invalidates the concept of social movement unionism. For an examination of

the Korean workers and the affects of neoliberal globalization, see Gray (2008).

For discussion of other possibilities of SMU, see Scipes, 1992a: 123, footnote #6. For a recent and

excellent discussion of Solidarnosc, the radical labor center of Poland, see Bloom, 2014.

5 Note that it is the trade union organization that is the independent variable, not the country—any country could

have two or three different types of trade unionism. Again, specifically, this is not a “third worldist” type of

trade unionism.

6 Thus, this paper addresses the problem of applying the same term to qualitatively different social phenomena,

and is not merely a focus on terminology, as one previous reviewer initially claimed.

7 Stephanie Ross discusses “social unionism” in Canada. In it, she notes, “There is a great deal of confusion

about the definition of social unionism, and a wide variety of terms and practices are associated with it in both

labor movement documents and academic literature. In particular, ‘social unionism’, ‘social movement

unionism’, ‘community unionism’, and the ‘organizing model’ are used interchangeably to refer to a common

set of North American union orientations and revitalization strategies” (Ross, 2008: 131).

8 Gay Seidman (2011) discusses some of the confusion around this term as well, although I don’t think her

analysis is as clear as is needed.

9 While Mexico is geographically located in North America, it is not included in this discussion because of a

number of distinct factors—including colonial history, social structure, political system, culture, dominant

language, level of economic development, form of trade unionism, etc.—that qualitatively differ from the US

and Canada, which are much more similar among themselves. This is not to imply that the social situations in

the US and Canada are superior vis-à-vis Mexico—they are in some ways, but not in others—but for this

discussion, Mexico is not included.

10 This is not to suggest that, in the future, additional types and/or forms could not be added to this theoretical

approach. However, these would be limited to being based on identified sets of practices. The normative

prescriptions suggested by Waterman (1993, 1999, 2004, 2008), ostensibly part of this discussion, might guide

future trade union development, but until sets of practices of how this works in practical terms are identified, it

is argued that these should not be included in this theoretical model.

11 After accepting the three types of trade unionism—economic, political and social movement types—and in

parallel with this argument, Pillay (2013) argues that there are three “sub-types” of the political type of

unionism: Marxist-Leninist, Nationalist and Social Democratic. I replace the term “sub-type” with “form.”

However, while there are some specific differences, we are generally in accord with our approaches, and our

work is compatible, albeit needing some continued refinements. Nonetheless, we now have two scholars who

have developed basically the same theoretical understandings.

In his references to the article (Pilay, 2013), there is one listing as “Anonymous, 2010.” Unknown to

Pillay—it appears he was reviewing this paper in a “double-blind” process, and he didn’t know who the author

was of the piece—that was an earlier version of this paper, a version that was not published.

12 Again, there is no theoretical reason that social movement unionism could not appear in the Global North;

however, to date, it has not.

13 Paul Johnston (1994), in an excellent study that has not received the attention it deserves, was the first to use

this term regarding unionism in North America as far as I can ascertain. Nonetheless, almost all references to

this subject refer to Moody, 1997.

14 Schiavone (2007: 281), who is the first to analyze Moody’s conceptualization of SMU in regard to actual trade

union practices, uses the exact same quote from Moody to define Moody’s conceptualization. Waterman (2004:

217-218), discussing Moody’s concept theoretically, uses another quote from p. 276 of the same book (Moody,

1997), as does Fairbrother (2008: 214-215). Neither quotation, in this author’s opinion, is a theoretical

explanation of social movement unionism, despite suggestions otherwise.

15 For some unknown reason that he has apparently never publicly explained, Moody totally ignores the KMU

(Kilusang Mayo Uno or May First Movement) Labor Center of the Philippines in his book on “Unions in the

International Economy” (Moody, 1997). This is surprising in light of the considerable amount of published

material available on the KMU before 1997, including a number of articles in Labor Notes, of which he was a

founder and long-time staffer. Labor Notes also had Leto Villar, KMU National Vice Chairman, speak at their

November 1986 conference—this author stood next to Villar while at the conference as he made a call to the

Philippines during which he learned about the assassination of KMU Chairman Rolando Olalia. See Labor

Notes, 1986a, b. Even if the KMU did not fit his understanding, I argue that Moody should have recognized its

existence (see Lambert, 1990; Eckstein, 1986; Eisenhower, 1991; Scipes, 1986a, 1989, 1996; also West, 1991,


16 In one of a number of conversations during 1993-94, when I was studying with her at the University of

Wisconsin-Madison, Seidman told me—although I cannot date the conversation—that her use of SMU was

stimulated by Eddie Webster at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in the mid-1980s.

Webster, as will be discussed below, later engaged in an international debate on different types of trade

unionism, and especially on the new unions of the Global South. Seidman, although using Webster’s

terminology, was apparently unaware of this international debate, for she did not participate in it.

17 Writers who have used the concept of SMU in discussing labor organizations in the Global South, subsequent to

the initial debate, have also focused recognized challenges to the state as being a key aspect of SMU. Philip

Hirschsohn (1998: 634) specifically focuses on challenges to the state as part of his understanding of social

movement unionism. Jeffrey Sluyter-Beltrão, in his study of the CUT, builds off of Scipes, 1992b, and defines

SMU as having three “core commitments”: participatory democracy, political autonomy, and societal

transformation. He further amplifies: “Although western labor observers and organizers have often neglected

SMU’s commitments to societal transformation, that third basic dimension is an equally essential

characteristic” (emphasis added) (Sluyter-Beltrão, 2010: 6-7.)

In a later piece, Gay Seidman (2011: 96) supports this broader understanding: “… industrial workers

discovered they could use factory-based unions as a vehicle for political demands, their movements often

became central to broad challenges to what Brazilian unionists often called the ‘savage capitalism’ of elitist,

inegalitarian growth.”

18 Although it had been previously suggested that this author was, in fact, referring to capitalism here, I disagree:

while the economic base of these respective social orders was and is capitalist, it is incorrect to conflate the

social order with capitalism. By larger social order, I mean the entire range of social relations within a stratified

social order, and while including the economic system, this definitely goes beyond it. However, there is a range

of positions within these labor centers as to whether capitalism must be replaced or not. Further discussion is

beyond the scope of this argument.

19 Writers who have been influenced by the work of Immanuel Wallerstein would refer to these global politicaleconomic-

cultural networks as the “world system” (Wallerstein, 1974). This conceptualization is rejected—I

do not accept that there is a world “system”—hence, this particular terminology. For the best theoretical

critique of Wallerstein’s work, see Nederveen Pieterse, 1989, especially Chapter 2.

20 Voss and Sherman (2000), while not adopting this terminology specifically in this article are aware of it, refer a

number of times to social movements, and this author thinks it would be fair to place them within this “school”

of studies.

21 Beginning in 2008, SEIU (Service Employees International Union)—which has served for many writers as the

epitome of North American “social movement unionism”—became involved in several conflicts, both internally

and with other unions in the US and Puerto Rico, especially raising issues of union democracy and member

control over their organization. There are several articles regarding this listed on Scipes’ “Contemporary Labor

Issues” Bibliography, and see in particular Early, 2011. Despite knowing of some of these developments, I

chose not to address them herein, as they are not relevant to this specific argument.

22 Gay Seidman discusses how this has differed from the earlier industrialization experiences:

Despite some similarities, industrialization in what are sometimes called ‘semiperipheral’

areas may not mirror the European and North American experiences.... ... patterns of

industrialization in the late twentieth century have often involved reliance on imported

technologies developed in core industrialized areas, as well as on infusions of foreign capital, and

have depended on links to international markets. While de-skilling of artisans has occurred from

place to place, the new technologies have frequently been put in place without many of the labor

process conflicts that apparently marked earlier industrialization. Mass production processes

using semi-skilled workers have been in place from the start of industrial growth... (Seidman,

1994: 6).

23 All of that being said, I think their work is important. This will make more sense after reading this entire

article, but I would place what they have found as social justice unionism (SJU), a subset of the economic type

of trade unionism. However, their findings suggest a need to differentiate between institutionalized SJU and

non-institutionalized SJU, which would broaden and perhaps deepen our understanding of SJU, in itself,

thereby making an important contribution to our collective theoretical project.

24 Again, it is the trade union organization that is the independent variable, not the country.

25 There are considerable writings on these new labor organizations. For some of the best books on development

of the new unions in South Africa, see Baskin (1991), Buhlungu, ed. (2006), Friedman (1987), Kraak (1993),

MacShane, Plaut and Ward (1984), and Von Holdt (2003), and and for additional references, see Barchiesi

(2007), Bezuidenhout (2002), Bramble (2003), Hirschsohn (1998, 2007), Pilay (2008, 2013), Scipes (2001),

Von Holdt (2002), and Wood (2003). For books on the development of the new unions in the Philippines, see

Scipes (1996) and West (1997); for a strong article on the development of the KMU between 1980-86, see

Lambert (1990); for an in-depth look at the social context in which the KMU operates, which has been subject

to—at that time—37 years of neoliberal economic policies, see Scipes (1999); for an in-depth look at how the

KMU builds international labor solidarity, see Scipes (2000); and to see what this author thinks can be learned

from the KMU to help us build global labor solidarity, see Scipes (2014b). Jeffrey Sluyter-Beltrão (2010)

published a book in English on the “new” unions in Brazil, fulfilling a massive hole in the literature, although

two excellent articles that focus on the new unions in Brazil, at least in part, had been published before his

monograph—see Beynon and Ramalho (2000), and Guidry (2003). Also, Thomas Collombat’s (2011)

innovative yet unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, compares Brazilian and Mexican unions, and their efforts to

build international labor solidarity throughout the Americas, providing another perspective on Brazilian Labor.

26 While this early debate began with a consideration of “labor movements,” it was quickly seen that there were

competing “labor movements” within each of these countries, and thus the debate shifted to considering “labor

centers.” In international labor terminology, the AFL-CIO, for example, is a labor center. Scipes (2001:4)

specifically discusses the relationship between labor movements and labor centers.

The larger point here is that the initial debate was around how do we understand these newly emerging

types of trade unionism at the labor center level. Subsequent theoretical development, as shown below, has

been to try to discuss the emergence of this type of trade unionism at more specific (and “lower”) levels, such as

at the industry-wide level (see Hirschsohn, 2007) and at the individual firm level (Von Holdt, 2003); see also

Barchiesi (2007) for a discussion of municipal-based unions. Developments at these levels have subsequently

been used to try to reflect upon, if not refine, the type of unionism exemplified at the labor center level.

27 These were based on “workerist,” “populist,” and “popular-democratic” visions of trade unionism that had

developed in South Africa. For a recent discussion of this, see Pillay, 2008: 282-284.

28 Waterman’s and Lambert/Webster’s conceptualizations are described and critiqued in Scipes (1992a: 124-134).

29 By “national socio-political-economic situation,” this author was not only referring to the national situation

within the country, but to each country’s specific position within global political-economic-military-cultural

networks; i.e., this was being placed within the global context.

Incidentally, disagreement arises with Gay Seidman, who states, “But the concept [of social movement

unionism] was not ever clearly defined; even those of us who used it freely weren’t entirely sure of its meaning”

(Seidman, 2011: 98). However, as far as I can determine, Seidman has never engaged with my work on this

subject, and I would argue that I have been quite clear on his conceptualization since putting forth this specific


30 This appears to be an effort to discredit my position (as well as that of Rob Lambert) regarding this issue,

instead of seriously addressing my arguments, which Waterman has never done, here or anywhere else. And

interestingly, especially in light of Waterman’s emphasis on “internationalism,” Waterman does not include an

article that specifically discusses the very innovative international program of the KMU, which Waterman

placed on his very own “Global Solidarity Dialogue” web site (Scipes, 2000a).

31 This author has developed a new theoretical understanding for macrosociology that he calls

“Polyconflictualism.” See Scipes, 2010a: 130-150, where this approach is explicated.

32 This claim that Waterman’s prescriptions are normative has also been made by Von Holdt, 2002: 285.

Fairbrother and Webster (2008: 310) specifically point out that Waterman’s 2008 contribution “is normative.”

Devan Pillay (2013: 13) also describes Waterman’s work at “normative.”

Although I have problems with Dunn’s (2007) larger argument, he also challenges the theoretical basis of

Waterman’s positions.

33 For a much more recent article about SIGTUR, see Dobrusin (2014).

34 The latest set of articles published on SMU (Fairbrother, 2008; Fairbrother and Webster, 2008; Waterman,

2008) does not really fit into this specific discussion on SMU; the first two articles generalize a global

perspective, unifying the concept across both the North and South instead of discussing the actions within

certain labor centers, while Waterman continues his foray into his prescriptive normativism, arguing how

unions should develop around the globe.

35 Hirschsohn (1998: 635) also limits his consideration of COSATU, stopping at 1990. It may be possible to

decide whether Hirschsohn or Scipes were more accurate or not on this point, but it is basically irrelevant for

this paper: the point is that both recognize that COSATU fit their respective conceptualization up to a certain

point in time, and then things became unclear. Pillay (2013: 17) subsequently clarified this, arguing that

“COSATU proceeded to play the leading role in the anti-apartheid struggle inside the country in the late 1980s,

and inspired labour scholars and activists throughout the world as a model of social movement unionism.” He

continues, “However, since 1990, when the ANC [African National Congress] and SACP [South African

Communist Party] were unbanned and took over the leadership of the Alliance [of which COSATU was also a

member-KS], there was a gradual narrowing of focus for COSATU.”

This raises an important point: one never achieves “social movement unionism-ness”; it is a process of

construction that continues over time. Accordingly, even labor centers seen to be social movement union-type

centers can revert back to economic or political types of unionism. Pillay (2013) specifically argues that post-

1990, COSATU reverted back to a political type of unionism.

In fact, Sluyter-Beltrão’s (2010) project is to try to understand what happened with the CUT in Brazil

(which he argues no longer is a social movement-type center), so that people can try to prevent this “reversion”

in the future.

36 Von Holdt (2002, 2003) has provided us with a truly excellent case study of the development and disintegration

of social movement unionism within a single industrial organization. Key to his study is the internal

contestation (i.e., within the union) over the understanding, meaning and activities of SMU within one

organization. There is a tremendous amount to be learned by his carefully done study. However, while

agreeing with him that “national reality counts” (Von Holdt, 2002: 299)—arguing against general prescriptions

such as put forth previously by Moody (1997) and Waterman (1993)—this author argues that Von Holdt

overgeneralizes the results from his study: he assumes that things he found in the specific case of Highveld

Steel (specifically intra-union violence) to be representative of social movement unionism overall, for which he

provides little evidence to support, but which is contradicted by research findings from the Philippines (see

Lambert, 1990; Scipes, 1996; West, 1997), where this was not found.

37 Von Holdt (2003) specifically includes the Philippines, along with Brazil and South Africa in his understanding

of social movement unionism. However, although he knows of Lambert’s 1990 study and Scipes’ (1992a), he

does not really make use of either in his conceptualization: he refers to Munck (1988), Waterman (1993—after

Waterman took his more normative approach), Seidman (1994) and—most surprisingly—Moody (1997) (Von

Holdt, 2003: 24-25, FN #4).

Had Von Holdt been aware of this author’s monograph (Scipes, 1996), he would have seen that at least in

the Philippines, SMU emerged in sugar plantations, capitalist agriculture, and extractive mining in addition to

semi-skilled manufacturing, therefore emerging in both colonial and post-colonial production systems.

Accordingly, Von Holdt (hopefully) would not have confined his definition to “semi-unskilled manufacturing


38 Development of SMU has not been linear, nor continuous; in fact, it seems likely that the transition to

democracy and some sort of accommodation between the labor-supported political parties that took political

office and the respective labor center in Brazil and South Africa directly affected social movement unionism,

“diluting” it and perhaps leading back to some form of economic or politial unionism. Bramble (2003) and

Barchiesi (2007) raise similar questions about COSATU, while Pillay (2013) specifically claims that COSATU

has reverted back to political unionism; Sluyter-Beltrão (2010) makes a similar claim for CUT. [Upchurch and

Mather (2012: 11) argue that SMU theorists have not considered sufficiently the role of the state, and argue that

the changing institutional context could have an important impact on subsequent development.]

The transition from the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos to the “democracy” led by Corazon Aquino in the

Philippines really was only a resumption of “traditional elite democracy” (see Kerkvliet and Mojares, eds.,

1991; McCoy, 2009: 433-451), which did not lead to substantial change and, in fact, led to continued—and, in

fact, worsened—repression against the KMU (Scipes, 1996), precluding any political accommodation.

Theoretically, this suggests that social movement unionism can arise during periods of authoritarianism—it

does not have to—but that does not guarantee that unions who adopt social movement unionism as their type of

trade unionism will always keep it; it seems clear that they can change—for better of worse—when they see

their particular situation requiring it (such as the imposition of popular democracy—see W.I. Robinson, 1996).

However, any change of regime to popular democracy must be “in fact,” not just a “name change,” as the

experiences of the Philippines warns.

39 Devinatz (2008) provides an overview of how “social movement unionism” (based on Moody’s

conceptualization) has been used by unions and community organizations in the United States.

40 Historical examples are used to illustrate his three types of trade unionism. From Selig Perlman’s (1968/1928)

comparative study of labor movements in Germany, Britain, the US and Russia in the nineteenth and early

twentieth centuries, this author uses Perlman’s work on trade unionism in the US—which was described as “an

economic institution,” based on “job consciousness” that limits itself to “wage and job control” (Perlman,

1969/1928: 169)—to illustrate what is called “economic unionism.” Victoria Bonnell’s (1983) study of workers

in St. Petersburg and Moscow between 1900-1914, whereby workers ultimately decided to subordinate

themselves and their unions to a group of intellectuals’ organization (Bolshevik Party) (Bonnell, 1983: 7-8), is

used to illuminate what is called “political unionism.” This author’s study of the KMU over the years 1980-

1994 (Scipes, 1996) is used to explicate what is advanced as “social movement unionism.”

41 Pillay (2013: 14) agrees, specifically discussing three different “sub-types” of political unionism: Marxist-

Leninist, Nationalist and Social Democratic.

42 The study herein is limited to examining qualitative differences among economic types of trade unionism, and

does not examine differences among political or social movement types of trade unionism.

43 Meaning that once production started, then the iron or animals had to be processed to at least the “semifinished”

stage before stopping, otherwise the steel or the meat would be ruined.

44 This analysis was based on extensive archival research at the Chicago History Museum, particularly of the

steelworkers’ efforts in the Chicagoland area. There has been little published on steel in this area—most

importantly has been Needleman (2003), but see Dennis’ (2010) study of the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre, as

well as his subsequent 2014 study. Also, there is an excellent, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation by James Kollros

(1998). There have been two important monographs published on meatpacking—Halpern (1997) and Horowitz

(1997), and they have published together an oral history of their efforts (Halpern and Horowitz, eds., 1999).

There is also an excellent, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation by Paul Street (1993). This was also accompanied by

extensive archival research at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where the papers of the United Packinghouse

Workers of America are located.

45 As far as I can tell, the term “social justice unionism” (SJU) was first developed in my study (Scipes, 2003),

although Tait (2005) and Fletcher and Gapasin (2008) have subsequently adopted the term, each independently

from me. I wanted a term that both differentiated a form of economic trade unionism distinct from business

unionism, and one that specifically referred to struggles for social justice, as that is how the packinghouse

workers saw their efforts (see especially Halpern and Horowitz, eds., 1999).

What I am now calling “social justice unionism” has long been known within North American labor studies

as “social” unionism (see Horowitz, 1997; and see Ross, 2008). This, however, was generally superseded by

Moody’s (1997) version of SMU. And now, this author is suggesting that SMU in North America be replaced

with SJU, which I suggest is a much more accurate term for this type of unionism than either social or social

movement unionism, and differentiates progressive trade unionism in North America from the type of unionism

practiced, at least initially, by CUT, KMU, and COSATU.

46 For an initial effort to theorize these different approaches, see Scipes, 2010a: 130-152.

47 Melucci (1989) developed his work on the “new social movements” such as feminism, the counter cultures, etc.,

of the 1970s and ‘80s, particularly in, but not limited to, Italy. He went to considerable lengths to differentiate

them from the “old” social movements of “labor” and “nationalism.”

However, Carol Mueller challenges this limited view: “Although Melucci argues that the process of

constructing collective identities is a unique characteristic of highly complex societies, he may also

underestimate how universal the process of cultural transformation has been as a prelude to previous periods of

mass mobilization. The development of a collective identity centered on class consciousness among the

working class in England (1780-1830), France (1830-1833), and Russia (1900-1914) point to a similar

combination of social analysis contained within a new collectivite identity and institution building…”

(emphasis added) (Mueller, 1994: 238).

Mueller’s analysis is convincing, and allows Melucci’s approach to be extended to labor movements.

48 Ross (2008) argues that not all social unions are democratically run and criticizes this; as shown, I antipated her

understanding into my conceptualization of both forms of economic trade unionism.

My conceptualization recognizes that not all social justice unions are democratically run—for example, I

would place the UAW (United Auto Workers) and the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) in this

category, as well as, following Ross (2008: 134), the Canadian District of the United Steelworkers of America.

However, I would place social justice unions as a whole not in a dichotomy between democratic/not democratic

unionism, but on a continuum, with the UAW and SEIU toward the “not democratic” end, with CUPE

(Canadian Union of Public Employees), CUPW (Canadian Union of Postal Workers), the UE (United Electrical

Workers), the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) and the late UPWA (United

Packinghouse Workers of America) toward the more democratic end.

Similar processes hold across business unionism as a whole.

49 In other words, this provides a more sophisticated and robust explainor than does the long-established tradition

of examining interactions only between members and leaders within unions.

50 At the same time, the steel workers’ union was controlled exclusively by a small group of formal leaders at the

top of the union, while the packinghouse workers’ union was controlled inclusively by rank and file members

through constitutionally-established popular democratic procedures.

51 The Appendix herein provides an explanation of the conceptualization of the measurement scale, and lists the

questions used to differntiate between the two forms of economic trade unionism.

52 I commented specifically on this point. “I had initially given the union a score of 28/30. However, on January

27, 2001, in an interview with Les Orear—who had gone into the stockyards as a labor organizer in 1933, was

one of the founding members of Local 347 in Armour, one of the founders of the UPWA [United Packinghouse

Workers of America-KS], and who after 1947 served on the international staff of the UPWA and later, after the

merger, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America until he retired in 1977—I

asked him to evaluate the [Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee]/UPWA on the basis of my

measurement scale. It turns out, in Orear’s opinion, that I had been too conservative: he said the union should

have gotten 29/30, not just 28. (I had not been sure that elections for top-level officers were recorded by roll

call vote, which he assured me they had.) Accordingly, I changed my rating based on Orear’s account. (The

one place that the union failed was that the top officers did not reflect rank and file gender demographics.)”

Scipes, 2003: 63, Note #46.

53 This work has been supported subsequently by the work of Devan Pillay (2013) of South Africa, who has

established the existance of different sub-types—what this author is calling “forms”—within the political type

of unionism, supporting my argument.

54 Accordingly, after recognizing the qualitative differences between SMU and SJU, it will be necessary to review

the (now) SJU literature (from Moody onward) after “removing” the attributes included from the specific

“southern” unions, and theoretically solidify the concept.

Likewise, the “cleansed” SMU literature needs to be clarified and theoretically solidified, based on sets of


55 This appendix is taken from the author’s Ph.D. dissertation (Scipes, 2003: 412-415).

[Kim Scipes, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Purdue University North Central in Westville,

Indiana, USA, and is a long-time labor activist and scholar. He currently serves as the elected Chair of the

Chicago Chapter of the National Writers Union, UAW #1981, AFL-CIO. He has published monographs on

the radical wing of the Filipino labor movement—KMU: Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the

Philippines, 1980-1994 (Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1996)—and on the foreign policy program of

the AFL-CIO: AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage?

(Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010 hardback, 2011 paperback). He served as an elected Board member

for Research Committee 44 (Labor) of the International Sociological Association from 2006-2010. He

recently edited a special thematic issue on “Global Labor Solidarity” for Working USA: The Journal of Labor

and Society, which was published as Vol. 17, No. 2, June 2014. Scipes has published extensively in the US and

around the world. He is the compiler of the “Current Labor Issues” on-line bibliography, and can be reached

through his web site: This article has undergone a number of iterations, but I

This article is available in Class, Race and Corporate Power:

want to thank Gerrit Buwalda and Charles Pressler for helpful comments in the earlier stages, as well as two

anonymous reviewers from CRCP at the last.

This article is available in Class, Race and Corporate Power:


February 21, 2015 at 10:00 AM

By: Sean I Ahern

Opt out and social justice unionism in NYC

(I posting an email below that I sent to the MORE caucus in NYC that may be of interest to those seeking clarity on what "social justice unionism" means in practice here in NYC.)

To: MORE, Change the Stakes, Coalition for Public Education, ICOPE, Teachers Unite, Teacher Diversity Committee of NYC.

Harris asked me what is the advantage of MORE delegates proposing resolutions to the UFT DA. Here is a response in the context of opt out.

I think it is the mission of MORE, the social justice caucus of the UFT to recast the "I Refuse" opt out resolution passed by small upstate and LI NYSUT locals into one that links together "opt out" and "opt in" based on the prevailing conditions in NYC schools.

This is what building a UFT/school/community based movement looks like. From "I refuse" to "we refuse." There is a common interest here that MORE can point to. Teachers will be rated ineffective and children will be rated as below grade level. They can point fingers at each other while the school privatizers laugh all the way to the bank, or they can see the through the game and make common cause now.

I am no longer a delegate but would be willing to help draft a resolution with others if MORE delegates are inclined to make a second effort. Why bother? I think a resolution emerging out of the particular conjuncture we in NYC face, addressed to the UFT DA may more effectively press the matter on to the agenda of the UFT in a way that may not be so easily dismissed by the procedural objections ('we can't tell NYSUT what to do') and erroneous assumptions ('Parents like tests') employed by Unity at the last DA to evade the substance of the matter.

I offer the following points for your consideration and use data from CT simply because it appeared in my email. (The pattern in any case is similar though reference to local data will make the case more forcefully and may be obtained if a second effort is deemed worthwhile by the MORE delegates):

1) NY is not part of this Common Core consortium but our neighbor CT is and they are further along in implementation of the assessments, so these states are a view into our own possible future.

Scroll down in the link below to the scores disaggregated by race in CT.

You will see that white students experience a precipitous decline in achieving "goal" under the new assessments - 4th grade math goes from 78% in 2011 to 43% in 2014, 4th grade reading from 76% to 48%.

Black students go from 38% to 15%. Latino students from 45% to 21%.

4th grade reading scores for whites go from 76% to 48%; for Blacks 42% to 24 %, for Latinos 44% to 25 %.

Do parents like these tests?

Obviously something has dramatically changed from the day when I was a kid in the 1960's and my parents were pleased to learn that their children were reading above grade level. VP Roberson's comments that 'Parents like tests' will not hold true with results similar to those above. The opt out movement will grow and parents will get angrier at a system and at teachers who are 'failing' their children.' This is a set up that the UFT DA, the elected representatives from all schools must defend against out of pure and immediate self interest.

2) Due to the fact that NYC schools are the most segregated in the nation, the common core assessments will be used to close Black and Latino schools. The disparate impact of these tests should be highlighted in a new resolution. The growth of "failing" schools that will follow will be a windfall for the charter schools and will lead to an expansion of the non unionized teaching force. This scenario cannot be dismissed on a technicality or through vague and blithe comments that "parents like tests" without blow back to the Unity caucus. The predictions are plausible. The danger is real. The weighing of consequences and probabilities associated with any course of action, the engagement with the active membership so that they are informed and may play the determining role in choosing this or that course is the test of leadership. It is the duty of the MORE caucus in my opinion to make our best effort to force consideration of these matters onto the UFT DA agenda. This is what social justice unionism looks like.

3) School closings in the Black and Latino communities will further the disappearing of Black and Latino educators who are concentrated in these schools. The Teacher Diversity Committee has been steadily pressing on this matter. MORE members as individuals and as a Caucus are on record in support of teacher diversity. The UFT, on paper at least, is also on record as supporting teacher diversity via its 2010 resolution. The convergence between the leadership and the opposition on this matter of teacher diversity affirms a common interest in solidarity and is a good thing, something that we in MORE should seek to build upon.

A credible threat to members framed properly and placed before the DA in a redrafted resolution cannot be so cavalierly dismissed by the Unity Caucus leadership without diminishing credibility with their own caucus members and supporters.

4) Those teachers caught in second wave of closed schools, disproportionately Black and Latino senior teachers, who are not forced into retirement will swell the ranks of the Absent Teacher Reserve, a scenario that neither the UFT leadership nor the Mayor and Chancellor welcomes. Given the large % of Black and Latino students in NYC schools the precipitous decline in test scores may even provide the opening for Cuomo to take over the entire NYC system should DiBlasio and Farina protest too much against this or that aspect of the corporate ed reformers. Cuomo may invoke the familiar refrain of the school reformers, that he is 'putting the children first.'

Last month MORE Delegates took the "I Refuse" resolution that small upstate predominantly white locals had passed and proposed it without revision to the UFT DA. That resolution which studiously avoids any mention of the disparate racial impact and is not a social justice resolution, was dismissed on a technicality. It failed to link opt out with opt in. It failed to point to the consequences of value added high stakes test which will fall most heavily upon Black and Latino educators, students and communities.

Will the UFT defend these teachers and students and in so doing defend all? This issue should be brought forward in a new resolution proposed by MORE in such a way that aims to bridge the gap between those seeking to opt out and those seeking to opt in. Those in predominantly middle class schools with large % of white students are increasingly opting out. They are however a small minority of public schools in NYC. In the large majority of NYC public schools teachers are opting in, looking for ways that their students can beat the test rather than let the test beat them. One unifying point is made by Jia Lee "High stakes tests are not diagnostic: they are tools for profit and managing the teaching workforce, made possible by alignment with the Common Core and a climate of rigid enforcement that is taking over our public schools."

The second unifying point is that the effect of high stakes tests fall most heavily upon Black and Latino teachers, students, parents, and schools. Social justice unionism succeeds or fails on the solidarity test; An injury to one is an injury to all!

I strongly urge that re drafting a resolution be placed on the next steering committee meeting and be considered as the main order of business at the next general meeting.


Sean Ahern

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