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The Anthropology of Labor Unions

Edited by E. Paul Durrenberger and Karaleah S. Reichart

Publication Year: 2010

"As the first collection to bring together anthropological case studies of labor unions, The Anthropology of Labor Unions will hopefully encourage more anthropologists to engage in this important field of study. As a sophisticated treatment of labor and labor unions, this very readable collection will be of interest not only to anthropologists but to historians, sociologists, and all of us interested in labor studies."—Steve Striffler, Journal of Anthropological Research

The Anthropology of Labor Unions presents ethnographic data and analysis in eight case studies from several very diverse industries. It covers a wide range of topics, from the role of women and community in strikes to the importance of place in organization, and addresses global concerns with studies from Mexico and Malawu. Union-organized workplaces consistently afford workers higher wages and better pensions, benefits, and health coverage than their nonunion counterparts. In addition, women and minorities who belong to unions are more likely to receive higher wages and benefits than their nonunion peers. Given the economic advantages of union membership, one might expect to see higher rates of organization across industries, but labor affiliation is at an all-time low. What accounts for this discrepancy? The contributors in this volume provide a variety of perspectives on this paradox, including discussions of approaches to and findings on the histories, cultures, and practices of organized labor. They also address substantive issues such as race, class, gender, age, generation, ethnicity, health and safety concerns, corporate co-optation of unions, and the cultural context of union-management relationships. The first to bring together anthropological case studies of labor unions, this volume will appeal to cultural anthropologists, social scientists, sociologists, and those interested in labor studies and labor movements.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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1: Introduction

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pp. 1-15

This collection is a move toward a definition of an anthropology of unions. Questions about unions can only arise in complex social orders with class structures that define incompatible interests between owners of capital and workers...

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2: Miners, Women, and Community Coalitions in the UMWA Pittston Strike

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pp. 17-31

The Pittston strike in the early 1990s marked miners’ return to contract bargaining and the deliberate attempt of miners and their families to augment the power of the union to secure their economic and political goals. While neither side actually...

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3: Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

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pp. 33-54

Some see the outcomes of the 2000 and 2004 U.S. presidential elections as failures of democracy. One explanation is that people are widely deceived and tricked into voting against their interests (Frank 2005). George Soros (2008) locates the failure...

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4: With God on Everyone’s Side:Truth Telling and Toxic Words among Methodists and Organized Farmworkers in North Carolina

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pp. 55-78

Moral authority and religious faith have been important components of social struggle during both the civil rights movement and farm labor organizing struggles. From his earliest efforts organizing in the fields, former United Farm Workers (UFW) president Cesar Chavez worked...

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5: Buying Out the Union: Jobs as Property and the UAW

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pp. 79-101

American companies and government institutions have shunted unions out of a role in regulating the labor process since at least the early 1980s. In a process David Harvey has referred to as accumulation by dispossession (Harvey 2003),1 they have deprived union...

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6: Approaching Industrial Democracy in Nonunion Mines: Lessons from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin

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pp. 103-130

In both popular and academic imaginations, the coal industry is often characterized by strong unions and dramatic strikes. In the decade after World War II, unionization rates in the coal mining industry exceeded 80 percent (Lichtenstein 2002:56). When the center...

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7: Small Places, Close to Home: The Importance of Place in Organizing Workers

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pp. 131-155

The challenges unions in the United States face in organizing workers are enormous and should not be underestimated. Recent changes at the national and international levels, such as the Change to Win coalition departing from the American Federation...

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8: Economic Globalization and Changing Capital-Labor Relations in Baja California’s Fresh-Produce Industry

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pp. 157-188

The fresh-produce industry, within which transnational corporations organize production in developing countries that lack strong labor unions employing indigenous and other vulnerable segments of the workforce, raises the question of how economic globalization...

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9: The Tobacco Trap: Obstacles to Trade Unionism in Malawi

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pp. 189-209

Based on ethnographic data on tobacco farmworkers and trade unionists in Malawi, this chapter analyzes child labor and labor organizing in Malawi’s tobacco sector. Malawi is economically reliant on tobacco growing and experiences...

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10: Concluding Thoughts

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pp. 211-224

The chapters in this book offer a valuable repertoire of ground-level portraits of the changing nature of the working class and its discontent, as well as some of the many disconnects between unions and workers in today’s era of neo-liberal and global capitalism...

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11: Afterword

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pp. 225-232

While the ethnographic studies collected here are not sufficiently broad or inclusive to comprise a comprehensive report on global labor or labor unions in general, there are sufficient similarities to draw some conclusions. All of the contributors recognize the importance...


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pp. 233-235


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pp. 237-239

E-ISBN-13: 9781607320432
E-ISBN-10: 1607320436
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607321842
Print-ISBN-10: 160732184X

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2010