Improvisational Unionism

TitleImprovisational Unionism
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsOswalt, Michael M.
JournalCalifornia Law Review
Date Published2016///
KeywordsFight for $15, improvisation, labor, OUR Walmart, strikes, unions

Recent fights for a $15 minimum wage at Walmart and in the fast food industry have interested academics, captivated the press, and energized the public. For good reason. The campaigns have upended conventional wisdom about what unions do (get specific sets of workers excited about unions) and why they do it (to get more members). But scattered, flash strikes for seemingly impossible or idiosyncratic goals on no obvious timeline have shattered that mold. Though much has already been said about these developments, scholarship has yet to provide a rigorous theoretical frame to categorize and explain the new form of activism. This article argues that improvisation — long the engine of comedy and jazz but more recently a topic of serious academic inquiry — does both. It contends that “improvisational unionism” is not only a planned, practiced, and intentional social practice that galvanizes courageous conduct, inspires new relationships, and, most importantly, spreads, it also functions as a highly intentional legal strategy selected for its unique potential to unlock worker militancy amid law and institutional restrictions that have corroded labor’s power for decades.

Short TitleCalifornia Law Review