Social-movement unionism: A new model for a new world

Peter Waterman

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Traditional socialist trade-union theories or models have not prevented the frequent isolation of labour from other social movements, or the subordination of labour struggles to the ideologies and interests of other categories and classes. Such understandings are today an obstacle to emancipatory strategies. Theory related to the new social movements (particularly feminism), 1) surpasses the notion of a single class identity and interest, 2) Undermines a view of society as dominated by the economic and political spheres, and of social struggle as progressing from the first to the second, 3) suggests positive new relations between class, popular and democratic interests and demands, 4) provides a base for a new relationship with political parties, and 5) proposes a new view of the global and a new kind of internationalism. A ten-point theoretical/strategic definition of 'social-movement unionism' is offered which stresses the necessity and possibility for an intimate articulation of unionised with other workers, of labour with other social forces, and of shopfloor democracy with shopfloor internationalism. A test case offered to illustrate the argument is that of the relationship between an Indian feminist strategy for working women and recent South African trade-union experience. The conclusion is that 'social-movement unionism' offers a continuously renewable emancipatory strategy surpassing current liberal, populist and socialist ones.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDen Haag
PublisherInternational Institute of Social Studies (ISS)
Number of pages34
Publication statusPublished - Sept 1991

Publication series

SeriesISS working papers. General series


  • ISS Working Paper-General Series


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