Fighting for a Fair Economy? The Response of Labor Unions to Economic Crisis.
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Political opportunity theory suggests that social movement organizations will increase political action efforts during times of opportunity, such as economic crises. On the other hand, business cycle theory predicts that economic crisis will be detrimental to unions, reducing membership and subsequently dues and power. This dissertation involves historical case studies of innovative and conservative labor unions, comparing organizational behavior during the Great Depression and the economic crisis of 2008. The dissertation also includes a QCA analysis of ten labor unions' political, organizing, and bargaining activity during the crisis of 2008. How do labor unions adjust their organizing strategies during an economic crisis? What tactics do unions use to redefine their role in the economy through social policy? What organizational characteristics define unions' varied responses to the crisis? This research found that characteristics consistent with organizational flexibility were consistent with the ability to identify and respond to the political opportunity present in economic crisis. While some unions decreased bargaining and organizing activity to shift resources towards political activity, this was not always the case. It also contributes a systematic description and analysis of typical labor union political activity. The data suggest that leader-based political action is a primary locus of activity, demanding further investigation into the varied campaigns and strategies unions take. More research is necessary to understand the interaction between the organizational political activity of labor unions and the political beliefs of union members.