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The Union Makes Us Strong

The Union Makes Us Strong
Radical Unionism on the San Francisco Waterfront


  • Date Published: December 1997
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521629683

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About the Authors
  • American labour history is typically interpreted by scholars as a history of defeat. Hidden by this conventional wisdom are a handful of militant unions that did not follow the putative Congress of Industrial Organizations trajectory. Based on three years of ethnographic research, this book examines a union that organised itself to systematically challenge management's rule on the shopfloor: San Francisco's longshore union. American unionism looks quite different than conventional wisdom suggests when everyday union practices are observed. American labour's trajectory, this book argues, is neither inevitable nor determined; militant, democratic forms of unionism are possible in the United States; and collective bargaining does not automatically eliminate contests for workplace control. The contract is a bargain that reflects and reproduces fundamental disagreement; it states how production and conflict will proceed.

    • Interesting examination of a vital area of US labour history
    • Challenges the conventional notion that American labour history is a history of defeated militant unionism
    • Based on three years of ethnographic research
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    Product details

    • Date Published: December 1997
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521629683
    • length: 388 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 26 mm
    • weight: 0.525kg
    • contains: 8 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Notes on unpublished sources
    Part I. Labour Radicalism Revisited:
    1. Unsettling old scores: labour radicalism encounters conventional wisdom
    2. Sealing the fate of radical labour theoretically
    3. A framework for American unionism
    Part II. Local Community and 'Tumultuous' Democracy: the Socio-Cultural Foundations of Unionism on the San Francisco Waterfront:
    4. Political community on the San Francisco waterfront
    5. The structure of participationist politics
    6. Being political in Local 10
    Part III. Unionism, Work and Technological Change:
    7. Work, knowledge and control: conventional longshoring
    8. Work, knowledge and control: containerised longshoring
    9. 'Doing the right thing': working principles and codes of conduct
    Part IV. Waging the Battle for Workplace Control on Contractual Terrain:
    10. Who decides how to work?
    11. Which side's language shall govern?
    12. By whose principles will merit be rewarded?
    Part V. Agreeing to Disagree: Being Defensibly Disobedient:
    13. Translating troubles into grievable issues
    14. 'We essentially have no contract with you': keeping the agreement
    15. Constructing and maintaining the appearance of co-operation
    Conclusion: Trade union exceptionalism or prefigurative politics?
    Appendix: doing field research - an ethnographic account
    Name index
    Subject index.

  • Author

    David Wellman, University of California, Santa Cruz

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