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A New Era for Labor Activism? Strategic Mobilization of Human Rights Against Blacklisting

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 December 2018


This article examines whether and how international human rights law transforms the grassroots mobilization strategies of labor activists. Drawing on original ethnographic research on the activism of blacklisted workers in the United Kingdom, I show that there is a two-tier process through which human rights norms are interpreted and mobilized, first by legal advocacy groups, then by grassroots activists. Contrary to skeptics who argue that human rights have a “mainstreaming” and “individualizing” effect on labor movements, this research shows that by strategically embedding human rights language in their campaigns, blacklisted workers leveraged media attention and facilitated changes in trade union rights discourse. Findings suggest that the strategic mobilization of human rights differs from other mobilization efforts, since labor activists use human rights language primarily to find a sympathetic audience within a political environment in which trade unions are viewed as a regressive force in the economy.

Copyright © American Bar Foundation, 2018 

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