Occupy’s Alliance With Labor

Collado, Suzanne

"When Occupy Wall Street (Occupy or OWS) emerged, it seemed that organized labor would be a likely ally. Both aimed at shifting the balance of power between the sources of capital and those of labor. But differences in organizational structures posed large obstacles for any collaboration between these two movements. OWS operated through a method of consensus-based decision-making, prizing participant access and direct democracy. Trade unions generally concentrated their power at the top, where leaders expected disciplined unity from the rank and file. Over the course of several months, efforts were made by both sides to harmonize and collaborate, especially in the lead-up to organizing the May Day events of 2012.
This essay analyzes these efforts and describes what each movement had to gain from an alliance. By drawing on extensive field interviews with key voices from Occupy, trade unionists, and rank and file workers, I explore how a future labor movement could be shaped by involvement in OWS. Yet I found that the same limitations that historically kept organized labor from growing in radical and democratic directions also served to keep the OWS spirit at bay. Structural control prevented unions from spontaneous engagement, and cumbersome bureaucratic processes slowed them down when compared with the more fluid and fast-moving OWS activists. However, it was clear to me that union members who did have contact with Occupy saw the potential for change that lay within union culture. Occupiers and union members alike came away from their encounters with OWS with a sharpened appetite for direct democracy and direct action."


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Periscope: Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

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Academic Units
Center for Digital Research and Scholarship
The Social Text Collective
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October 8, 2013