chapter  12
23 Pages

Social movement unionism

WithPauline Dibben

This chapter explores the role of unions as social movements. To do this, it begins by examining, firstly, the role of social movements more generally, before putting forward three propositions about what social movement unionism should entail. The first of these propositions is that social movement unionism should imply ‘grassroots democracy’, or at least close linkages with grassroots concerns either through formal democratic structures or more informal mechanisms to promote accountability. The second is that it should involve reaching out to other groups and seeking broad aims of social justice, and the third is that it implies a fight against the harmful aspects of international business and the current ‘neo-liberal hegemony’. This fight does not imply ‘fighting for its own sake’, but protecting the weakest in society from the worst excesses of capitalism. The chapter then turns briefly to examine criticisms of trade unions as social movements, before turning to the experiences of Brazil, South Africa and the United States, as examples of the capacity of unions to recapture a ‘social movement’ role.