- Partnering for Change: Unions and Community Groups Build Coalitions for Economic Justice
This volume of essays contains a wealth of data regarding attempts to build sustainable labor-community coalitions in the United States over the last decade. David B. Reynolds' excellent introduction provides a helpful summary of the essays in this collection, all but one of which were updated from articles previously published in the journal Working USA. Each author was asked to address a common set of questions about "the strengths, limitations, and challenges of labor-community work."
The promise of a common analytical framework for each essay in the volume is not fully realized in Partnering for Change. As one would expect, the quality of writing and analysis varies significantly from essay to essay. Still, this volume has a number of strengths. All the essays are written by scholar-practitioners. The authors are doers, thinkers, and writers. The essays are a pleasure to read in every case because they are grounded in real activity and written from an engaged point of view. The combined efforts of these authors and this editor contribute significantly to the documentation of the difficult but important work of local labor activists in communities across the country.
The first section examines the dynamics of labor-community coalitions in general. Fred Rose gets things off to a lively start with his provocative piece on labor-environmental coalitions. His essay offers a framework for understanding the dynamics between three entities: corporations, environmentalists, and unions. Rose points out that "each class-based group has multiple and competing interests." This simple framework sheds light on the [End Page 107] complex dynamics that affect any effort to build a coalition between unions and environmental groups, since each has different class interests and reasons to ally with corporations. Two other essays in this section—one on religion-labor coalitions by Kim Bobo and one on the alliance between ACORN and unions throughout the country by Steve Kest—are both interesting and share some valuable lessons learned, but they are thinner on analysis. The final essay in this section, by Bruce Nissen, includes a very useful review of the recent literature on labor-community partnerships and an insightful account of coalition efforts in southern Florida.
In the second section, Reynolds and Jen Kern provide an overview and status report on living-wage coalitions across the country. Most of the remaining essays in the volume examine economic justice coalition-building in one geographic area. The authors look at statewide efforts in Minnesota, Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and local efforts in Baltimore, Stamford, San Jose, and Milwaukee. Some cases combine a detailed account of activity and outcomes with a thoughtful analysis of what the lessons emerge from the case; others stick to relaying the facts and celebrating the efforts of a particular labor-community coalition. Of special note is an extremely well-written piece by Greg LeRoy on the smart growth movement and the reasons for greater union involvement in local coalitions fighting sprawl.
The goals of this volume are documentation and analysis of labor-community coalition building at the turn of the century. This collection succeeds at both, with some essays focusing almost exclusively on documentation and others offering thought-provoking analyses of challenges, limitations, and directions for the future.