Breaking the Iron Law of Oligarchy: Union Revitalization in the American Labor Movement

TitleBreaking the Iron Law of Oligarchy: Union Revitalization in the American Labor Movement
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2000
AuthorsVoss, K., and Sherman, R.
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Volume106
Issue2
Pagination303 - 349
Keywordsbureaucratic conservatism, international unions, labor leaders, labor movement, local unions
Abstract

This article addresses the question of how social movement organizations are able to break out of bureaucratic conservatism. In-depth interviews with union organizers and other data are used to identify the sources of radical transformation in labor organizations by comparing local unions that have substantially altered their goals and tactics with those that have changed little. This analysis highlights three factors: the occurrence of a political crisis in the local leading to new leadership, the presence of leaders with activist experience outside the labor movement who interpret the decline of labor’s power as a mandate to change, and the influence of the international union in favor of innovation. The article concludes by drawing out the theoretical implications of the finding that bureaucratic conservatism can sometimes be overcome in mature social movements.

URLhttp://sociology.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/faculty/voss/Voss%20and%20Sherman.pdf