A Reality Check for Social Movement Unionism

Jason Struna and Rob Ackermann

Radical “social movement unionism” has become a trendy concept among graduate student unions. But the goals of union activists must be evaluated not just in terms of desirability or rhetorical militancy, but also in light of the concrete outcomes of their work.

The emergence of the Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU) signaled a new phase in labor struggles within the UC system. Graduate students at Berkeley and Santa Cruz—many of whom had taken up careers in higher education after leaving the labor movement, disillusioned by the slow growth of unions within the education sector and embittered by SEIU President Andy Stern’s well-publicized feud with internal critics—formed AWDU in 2010.  Its ranks were also infused with participants and energy from the Occupy movement that swept across the U.S. in the aftermath of the 2008 economic cataclysm. In 2011, AWDU assumed leadership of UAW Local 2865 – the union representing over thirteen thousand the Teaching Assistants, Tutors, and Readers at the University of California – after winning the local’s UC-wide elections.

AWDU’s leaders argue that their brand of radical social movement unionism can successfully reform the labor movement, and they have issued spirited claims of success in promoting democratic practices and advancing the interests of workers. However, union members have made well-documented critiques of AWDU’s lack of accomplishments and undemocratic methods. This disjuncture between claims and practices begs the question: How can a self-consciously radical social movement fail to meet so many of its own core principles in the eyes of its members?

The simple answer: AWDU’s commitment to building a collective identity as union reformers, and their attempts to prefigure in their identity and tactics the change they would like to realize, (un)intentionally impedes them from doing an effective job as union leaders. The manner in which AWDU officials’ define and implement this union reform identity has eclipsed both their effectiveness and their stated goals of inclusion and internal democracy.

Following the “cultural turn” in social movement theory, this article offers a “constructivist” explanation of AWDU by applying the concepts of “prefigurative” politics and “collective identity” to help decipher the apparent contradiction between AWDU’s words and deeds. In addition, the authors draw on their experience as members and elected leaders at UAW Local 2865. They do not pretend to offer an unbiased assessment: The authors have significant experience in elected leadership within UAW 2865 and ran on various slates opposed to AWDU tickets over the course of their graduate careers at UC.[1] Both authors served on the local’s 2013 bargaining team, consistently opposed AWDU bargaining strategy, and insisted that AWDU officials’ choices would result in unnecessary concessions and takeaways by management, the loss of wage gains, and overall weakness resulting from the failure to mobilize significant majorities of UAW 2865 membership. Their analysis of AWDU is informed by those experiences.


Collective Identity and the Study of Social Movements

Collective identity has played such a major role in the practice and study of social movements over the past decades that social movement scholars have dubbed it the “animating spirit” of the epoch.[2]  Recent trends in the study of social movements suggest that the social construction of “collective identities” among activists and movements provides a critical tool with which to analyze movements that helps go beyond the structure-versus-culture debate. Instead of viewing “collective identity” as just some sort of cultural change distinct from institutional changes, or as mere residue within otherwise structural explanations of movements, these analyses demonstrate ways in which movement identities do (not) transform institutions and social and political structures. Charles Kurzman refers to these types of analysis that utilize a robust form of collective identity as an explanatory variable as “constructivist.”[3]

Francesca Polletta and James Jasper define collective identity narrowly as “an individual’s cognitive, moral, and emotional connection with a broader community, category, practice, or institution.”[4] Social movement actors can form collective identities on the basis of many factors, such as participation in a movement, tactical repertoires, and organizational membership. Collective identity then constitutes and shapes several aspects of social movements, including the choice of tactics, organizational structure, and movement outcomes. In looking at the specific ways in which AWDU leaders understand and perform their collective identity as radical union reformers, we will explain why the tactics, strategies, and organizational forms they chose helped result in, perhaps unintended, outcomes of their movement that belie its claims to be radical, effective, and democratic.

We begin by considering a fundamental insight of social movement scholarship: Movements describe their collective identities in part by telling stories about how they formed, why and against whom they fight, about what they hope to achieve. Polletta describes how movements use several different types of narratives and narrative tools to build their identities. She explains:

“Research in cognitive and social psychology has documented how storytelling helps to make sense of the anomalous, how it elicits and channels emotions, and how it sustains individual and group identities. These processes are all critical to collective action, and we can draw on them to develop the micro-foundations of collective action that we still lack.”[5]

Narratives have a discernible beginning, middle, and end; characters and point(s) of view; a plot or logic rendering recounted events meaningful; and normative conclusions. The rhetorical power of a story resides in that it “represents cause and effect relations through its sequencing of events rather than by appeal to standards of logic and proof.”[6] So stories can and do persuade people of normative conclusions without offering a shred of evidence or analytic argument. Therein resides their political power: they persuade and motivate people to act without needing to go through dry rational arguments or lengthy presentations of facts.

Polletta provides several examples of how narrative tools by which activists and movements tell their stories, including the literary device of metonymy. Metonymies “function as a kind of causal thread in the stories that appear in fragmented form in activists’ descriptions, claims, non-narrative explanations, and references.”[7] The power of metonymy in forming and reproducing a movement’s collective identity, she argues, derives from the object or characteristic chosen to represent the relation both in terms of what it substantively represents as well as from what it deletes.

AWDU’s Selective Memory and the Efficacy of Prefigurative Politics

AWDU leaders fashion themselves radical union reformers, and in so doing establish their core metonymic device. They describe themselves as “activists” who “founded AWDU to transform the union into ‘a social movement union that supports the empowerment of members through direct action,’” and named it after one of the most well-known union reform movements in U.S. labor history, “Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU)”. AWDU’s identity as radical union reformers creates protagonists and antagonists by appealing both to the reality that the U.S. labor movement finds itself in a fight for its life and simultaneously to common (anti-union) themes in U.S. culture (on the right and left) that unions’ have “bosses” who run them “corruptly” or “ineffectively” and in a “top-down” manner.[8] By representing themselves as the antithesis of these stereotypical views, AWDU leaders criticize—without much appeal to standards of logic and proof—their opponents as “business unionists,” “the old leadership,” “Administrative Caucus”. AWDU leaders even go so far as to insinuate that the so-called “old leadership” is responsible for “physically assaulting picketing workers on a wildcat strike.”

But consider for a moment that those whom AWDU refer to as the “old leadership” of UAW 2865 played a direct role in organizing over thirty thousand workers in the higher education sector of the economy; provided indirect inspiration for tens of thousands of other student workers organizing; fought fee and tuition hikes; fought the abolition of affirmative action; changed labor law in California to make it easier for workers to form unions; fought for progressive immigration reform; bargained contracts that set standards for higher-ed workers across the U.S;. and helped make the UAW International’s political positions better and more inclusive on many issues—including immigration reform. This very brief summary of the achievements of the so-called “old leadership” highlights the degree to which AWDU’s metonymic collective identity of union reform deletes significant victories and glosses over the struggle and sacrifice of the thousands of student workers who made them happen.

Furthermore, when AWDU leaders describe themselves as union reformers, they simultaneously draw upon a narrative that faults “bureaucrats” for the weakness of the U.S. labor movement. They then insinuate—also without much appeal to standards of logic and proof—that they embody the solution to these problems. But consider that AWDU has not only not organized any new groups of workers, but allowed membership in UAW 2865 to drop to 38% of the student workers they represent (down from nearly 60% in 2010 prior to when AWDU took power in 2011); and bargained UAW 2865’s first and only concessionary contract with the lowest level of student worker participation of any contract campaign in the history of the local union. The reality of these shortcomings reveals that AWDU’s metonymy of union reform may mobilize its supporters by claiming to strengthen the labor movement—a worthy goal that we share—but effectively deletes AWDU’s shortcomings from the discursive field. Instead of being receptive to critiques and acknowledging weaknesses—a crucial capacity for any democratic organization—AWDU demonizes other strategic assessments as “reactionary”. No one can claim such intransigence expands democracy or transparency in UAW 2865, or strengthens the labor movement in adopting this particular metonymic approach.

AWDU leaders try to reform the labor movement by embodying the change they seek to achieve. They argue that the problems of the UAW International Union embody those of UAW 2865, and that AWDU’s solutions for UAW 2865 will solve those of the International Union. As Katy Fox-Hodess asserts in Jacobin, “This is evident in the union’s failure to address the needs of young UAW members in two different industries: auto workers working under two-tier contracts and graduate student teaching assistants, like the members of my local at the University of California”. AWDU leaders like Christy Thornton also explain in Jacobin that more internal democracy will cure what ails the UAW: “We are helping to create a movement working from within union structures to push for internal democratization in the UAW as the only way to rebuild the strength of our union and the labor movement more broadly”. Such militancy is commendable, and desirable within the labor movement—but can only be effective to the degree that it is a mobilizing force that creates active majorities and broader networks. Despite AWDU leaders stated goal of reforming the larger UAW and broader labor movement, they have made few, if any, efforts to work with UAW workers outside academia and actively engage larger labor coalitions.

AWDU’s analysis that internal democracy will remedy the problems with the U.S. labor movement resonates with that of several other radical movements in recent U.S. history. Culturally radical movements in the U.S.—especially since the 1960s—have often significantly emphasized the “prefigurative” dimensions of politics that prioritizes communicating their ideals and beliefs in an internally consistent way. Thus prefiguring the world, in this case the labor movement they hope to create by setting an example for others. This emphasis on prefigurative politics enables and constrains movements’ capacity to accomplish their goals.

We do not pose a necessary opposition or tension between “prefigurative” or “expressive” politics on the one hand, and “strategic” or “effective” politics on the other, as some social movement scholars appear to do.[9] Rather, we agree with scholars who argue that “prefigurative” politics or a commitment to participatory democracy can and frequently does bare strategically useful fruit in terms of helping to win concrete institutional change. We also agree that:

“It is undeniable that most participatory democratic groups have struggled to survive past their founding, let alone realize politically transformative aims. The challenges that they have faced in coordinating large numbers of people with little preparation time and scarce resources have been daunting, and the economic and legal pressures on them to mimic conventional organizations equally so. But participatory democrats have also been thwarted by their very understandings of equality and democracy and efficiency.”[10]

Thus, we argue not that “prefigurative” and participatory politics necessarily fail to achieve strategic goals, but rather that activists must give careful attention to the ways in which their prefigurative and participatory democratic practices both embody and build capacity to achieve the labor movement and world in which we want to live. We believe in and practice prefigurative politics and participatory democracy insofar as we begin with an analysis of the power relationships in which the union and university are embedded, and base our strategies and tactics on the ways such dynamics enable and constrain the attainment of our organizational and political goals. The problem arises when prefigurative metonymies trump the assessment of capacities and constraints, and pragmatic adjustment to objective conditions is abandoned.

AWDU’s Identity as Radical Union Reformers Shapes Its Record

Table 1 summarizes how these differences in approach—prefigurative versus pragmatic-strategic—play out in terms of concrete outcomes. Here, we will analyze some of the particular ways that AWDU leaders defined and operationalized their collective identity as radically democratic union reformers to explain the disjuncture between their words and actions. Specifically, we will focus on three aspects of AWDU’s leadership of UAW 2865: their lack of support for Proposition 30, the declining participation in UAW 2865 during their term in office, and their ground-breaking concessionary contract of 2014.

 UAW Pragmatic Left Leadership (pre-1999 to 2011)AWDU (2011 to present)
Organizing the Unorganized• Helped organize 30,000 academic workers at UC, CSU, and UW.• None
Broader Political Impacts• Amended CA law to make it easier for workers to form unions.
• Fight for Prop 30, CA DREAM Act, ENDA, paid sick days, and other progressive initiatives via direct action and Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts.
• Fight against Props 187 and 209, tuition increases, budget cuts, U.S. war in Iraq, and other reactionary measures via direct action and GOTV.
• Acts in solidarity with other workers.
• Eschew electoral politics, e.g. did not support Prop 30.
• Fight against tuition increases and budget cuts, and other reactionary measures through direct action.
• Acts in solidarity with other workers.
Engaging the UAW International• Works with UAW, e.g. fighting for immigrants’ rights and single-payer health care and supporting auto workers in southern U.S. organize.
• Participate in UAW events, programs, and councils.
• Obtain UAW support in organizing, bargaining, political action, etc.
• Support other UAW workers, e.g. fought closing CA NUMMI auto plant.
• Do not participate in UAW initiatives, events, programs, and councils.
• Sent only one of twenty delegates to UAW Constitutional Convention to participate in electing UAW leadership and setting policy.
Contract Victories • First contract at UC to make non-discrimination article enforceable through arbitration and legal appeals.
• Contracts helped set national standards for rights and compensation for student workers.
• Struck for only UC contract to keep right of workers to honor picket lines.
• Ensured undocumented student rights expanded in current contract.
• First concessionary contract for UAW 2865.
• 2013-14 compensation freeze despite influx of State funds to UC.
• Deferred new student workers’ ability to bargain for unprecedented amount of time.
• Gave up strike leverage at contract expiration.
Majority Membership Participation• Focus on 1-to-1, grassroots membership outreach and education about the union and contract.
• Consistent majority membership participation and mobilization in the union.
• Union leadership comes from all departments of the university: STEM, Social Sciences, and Humanities.
• Deemphasizes 1-to-1, grassroots outreach.
• Membership plummeted to 38% in November 2014. Participation in 2013-14 contract campaign at historic low.
• Union leadership comes from only one-half of departments: Social Sciences & Humanities.
Fiscal Responsibility• Built financial reserves up to $1M.• Spent reserves down to $1.65K in November 2014.

Consistent with their collective identity of radical social movement unionism, AWDU leaders fought the fiscal austerity of the neoliberal state by participating in, and helping to organize, many of the protests that helped persuade the UC Regents’ to freeze student tuition and fees in 2012. But it was Proposition 30—which AWDU did not support—that generated the money that made it possible for UC to freeze the tuition and fees.

Proposition 30 emerged as an attempt to circumvent the state legislature to protect funding to the tune of $6 billion for public higher education in California. Political forces opposed to public higher education had successfully pushed austerity budgets and handcuffed state legislators with restrictions on raising revenue. As a result, UC tuition and fees were spiking, safety net programs were shredded, and things were getting increasingly desperate. This caused many in the progressive community to initiate the strategy of going around the legislature, which eventually resulted in a compromise ballot measure. Proposition 30 combined the more progressive “Millionaire’s Tax” and Gov. Brown’s own proposal. It raised revenue primarily through raising income tax on the wealthy, but also had enough moderate elements to win in a contentious political climate. It wasn’t an ideal revenue package, but was far better than the no-revenue reality that was leading to tuition hikes, a slashed social safety net, and other public policy disasters. Californians voted to approve ballot measure Proposition 30 on November 6, 2012.

The entire California labor movement and progressive community—including UAW 2865’s peer UAW locals, postdocs at UC, academic student employees in the Cal State system, and all other unions representing workers in the public sector in California—supported Prop 30. AWDU, however, decided that UAW Local 2865 would not endorse Prop 30 because of the “regressive aspects of the bill around taxation, and our exclusion from the compromise process itself, both by the governor and our fellow allies in other social movement organizations and unions.”[11] AWDU’s reasons for not supporting Proposition 30—that the process was not sufficiently inclusive and that the substance not sufficiently radical—show how their collective identity as radical union reformers shape their strategic and substantive decisions to engage in politics in a manner that, were it only up to them, would likely not have achieved the results they desired. This also shows their lack of commitment to build broad labor coalitions, an essential aspect of a robust and democratic union movement.

Another example of the ways in which AWDU’s radical identity conditions its tactics and effectiveness involves the declining levels of participation in UAW 2865 by student workers during the AWDU’s administration. AWDU has presided over shrinking membership in the union because their leaders only come from academic disciplines comprising half the departments (i.e., AWDU currently has no leaders from Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math [STEM] fields) represented by the union, and because their militant rhetoric and tactics alienate even the more moderate student workers in social sciences and humanities. AWDU consciously chose to focus on more militant strategies and tactics despite diminishing participation. As they stated: “We organized with the Occupy movement and the movement to re-fund California’s social services and public education. Union officers, members, students, and other workers faced off against police—and dealt with police brutality and arrests”. AWDU also emphasized “changing the consciousness” of workers to be more radical over attempts to ensure the participation of a large majority of workers (which unions need to be effective). AWDU leaders have undermined member organizing by rallying around a discourse that excludes instead of including the wide diversity of members of UAW 2865.

Consequently, membership in the union has declined from around 60% in 2010 to 38% in November 2014 (AWDU took power in 2011). Since reaching a majority in 2002, membership of UC student workers in their union had never dipped back below this threshold. And the decline of participation shows up not just in sliding membership rates, but also in decreasing rates of other types of participation. Under AWDU’s leadership, most of the members did not take part in the 2013/14 contract campaign:

  • Only about 9% of 13,000 student workers voted to ratify initial bargaining goals;
  • Only about 17% voted to authorize the union to call a strike;
  • Only a few hundred (5-10%) participated in the strike 4/2-3/14;
  • Only 8 % voted to ratify the final contract.

These numbers represent new lows for our union. In the 2007 contract campaign (prior to AWDU taking control of UAW 2865), over 6,500 workers (54% of student workers) signed a public pledge to strike that October over unfair labor practices. In 2010 (also prior to AWDU taking control of UAW 2865) over 67% of members participated in the contract campaign, including: planning an unfair labor practice strike, mobilizing to defend public education, attending bargaining sessions, and signing on to a “report card” evaluating UC’s misplaced fiscal priorities. These previous contract campaigns resulted in real gains for all student workers. This year’s campaign resulted in concessions.

For AWDU, a critical component of radical, democratic union reform involved elongating bargaining well past contract expiration to, in their view, gain leverage in negotiations. An AWDU leader articulated this position in an email on February 12, 2013 to members of the UAW 2865 contract campaign committee in which she promoted a Labor Notes article that extolls the virtue of bargaining past contract expiration. In the communication, she indicated that unions using such a strategy should be emulated by AWDU, and proposed that the committee should execute such a plan. In email responses on the same day, a fellow AWDU leader supported that proposal, and stated that it would be necessary to discuss ways to attenuate membership to the strategy despite his perceived difficulty communicating with members during the summer break. Together, these leaders offer the AWDU rationale for delaying bargaining long past expiration on September 30, 2013: First, radical unions do this. Second, holding bargaining sessions on every campus during the academic year (mid-August through mid-June) would enable members of the campus community to participate in bargaining.

Several members of the UAW 2865 contract campaign argued that delaying bargaining for a significant amount of time past contract expiration created unnecessary risks of union members losing critical rights and raises. At UAW 2865’s main governing body’s quarterly decision-making meeting (the Joint Council) in July 2013, opponents of AWDU’s strategy of delay presented data demonstrating that, in the last round of bargaining at UC, the number of days past contract expiration that bargaining lasted inversely correlated to the size of the pay raise that workers won in the contract:

Table 2 Chart

In the same presentation, opponents of the AWDU bargaining strategy delineated several other unnecessary risks of the strategy, including getting significantly lower pay increases, losing retroactive pay increases, losing pay increases budgeted by UC, and many student workers never getting pay increases (because they would graduate or otherwise move on before UC distributed the back pay). Opponents of the AWDU bargaining plan also argued to continue using bargaining strategies that past leaders had used to secure standard-setting contracts, including: majority membership mobilization (e.g., strikes, demonstrations, occupations, and delegations), support form political allies, a smart media campaign, and aggressive bargaining (e.g., request relevant, necessary information, schedule frequent bargaining dates, file unfair labor practice charges, and using contract expiration as an established deadline to reach agreement that UC takes seriously).

Rank and file members of the union who were present voted against a strategy of delay, but nevertheless AWDU embarked on a strategy that intentionally prolonged bargaining. The union and university did not reach tentative agreement on a new contract until June 4, 2014, resulting in many of the unnecessary risks identified the summer before above coming to fruition. UAW 2865-represented workers experienced a pay freeze in Academic Year 2013-14—a year in which the California General Fund Allocation to UC grew by 20%—losing $950-$1,850 in wages and/or child care subsidies. Additionally, AWDU did not win retroactive pay increases as previous bargaining committees (2003 and 2010) secured when contracts expired and majority strikes were held (2003) or threatened (2010).

In addition to the concessions outlined above, AWDU also gave up the union’s major strike leverage by agreeing to contract expiration in the summer when significantly fewer members are employed, and when withholding labor commands less threat to management. Previously, UAW 2865 contracts expired during the fall term when members are at their peak period of employment, and final exam schedules align across the UC in a way that makes the threat of work stoppage powerful and effective. Further, AWDU agreed to concede new workers’ chance to bargain for an unprecedented length of time by agreeing to UC management’s contract duration demands, and gave in to UC management’s demand that union leaders be bound only to recommend unconditionally the new proposed contract in the following ratification vote.

On May 16, 2014—a few weeks before the contract settled—a union leader previously sympathetic, or at least unopposed to, the AWDU bargaining strategy e-mailed nearly every activist in UAW 2865 expressing frustration over the state of the contract campaign and identifying AWDU’s collective identity of radical union reform as the cause of the problem. In the boisterous email, he cited, among his many problems with the AWDU approach, the long delay in getting the new contract and the consequent failure to win wage increases for graduating members like himself. Having been “at first…fully supportive of the AWDU caucus’s tactics,” the leader berated AWDU for engaging in conflict for conflict’s sake, using the union as a mode of academic experimentation, abandoning members in the STEM disciplines, and indulging in pedantic, yet fruitless debates with management over problems management stated a willingness to correct. The biting tone of the communication further accused AWDU of having a timeline for contract negotiation that was not based on concrete outcomes, but on showing that “it’s the struggle that matters” as an ideological lesson for membership.

This previously AWDU-sympathetic leader clearly articulates the internal tension and contradiction in the way the AWDU collective identity impacts their choice of bargaining strategy. On the one hand, the process of struggling itself, and especially with militant tactics against a notorious foe such as the UC administration, engenders satisfaction and meaning for many AWDU leaders regardless of the effectiveness of their actions in achieving institutional reform. On the other hand, AWDU leaders’ beliefs and commitments to their radical union reform identity also, in this case, led to protracted negotiations that resulted in a contract with major concessions to UC management—especially a wage freeze for the 2013-14 academic year. Prolonging bargaining until the very end of academic year 2013-14 when the largest UC campus (Berkeley) had already concluded the semester and without any emphasis on majority membership in the union, let alone majority mobilization for actions, such as striking as had happened in past cycles of bargaining, meant that AWDU lost the opportunity to translate some of the additional state funds from Prop 30 into sizable compensation increases for student workers in 2013-14.

We do not argue that AWDU’s identity of radical union reform somehow necessitated the concessions they made to UC management or their lack of transparency in the contract ratification process. Rather, we contend that AWDU leaders—fully aware of the incredible opportunity to bargain significant compensation increases in Academic Year 2013-14 created by the influx of additional state funds made available by Prop 30 revenue—purposefully embarked on a bargaining strategy that they knew risked economic gains which members had identified on bargaining surveys as their top priority by prolonging negotiations, because of their subjective self-identification as a group of union leaders who bargained in a radical, union-reforming, open way.[12]


Jonathan Smucker, an active participant in and organizer of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, applied these concepts to OWS recently in this journal. Smucker argues that OWS not only does not signify a new form of purely “prefigurative” politics, but that OWS could not have happened without both “strategic” and “prefigurative” political tendencies. Yet, Smucker’s critique of OWS contends that the movement would have enjoyed more success were it to have focused more self-consciously on the strategic elements of politics. That approach echoes Gramsci’s warning that:

“A common error in historico-political analysis consists in an inability to find the correct relation between what is organic and what is conjunctural. [It] becomes still more serious in the art of politics, when it is not the reconstruction of past history but the construction of present and future history which is at stake. One’s own baser and more immediate desires and passions are the cause of error.”[13]

Prefiguring a changed labor movement is an important goal for organizers on the ground, but we must ensure that the ways we enact our visions are not actually detrimental to mass organizations we are charged with developing. Basing our strategies and tactics on the analysis of objective conditions conducive to the needs of an actively engaged majority—instead of preconceived and contestable notions of what “ought to be” according to a well-intentioned, but fallible radical minority—allows us to achieve both goals. We can live the change we want to see, and ensure the durability and growth of our democratic, majority organizations.

Indeed, Smucker concludes by admonishing “social movement participants in advanced capitalist nations” to take a more balanced approach than OWS to both “prefigurative” and “strategic” politics or risk “insularity”. Both Gramsci’s warning, and Smucker’s analysis and prescription for OWS also applies well to AWDU. Unless they want a union that grows increasingly insular and bargains more concessionary contracts, student workers at UAW 2865 need to choose leaders whose collective identity includes a more effective version of prefigurative, democratic politics that lives up to its promise of democratizing both the union and, through its success, the labor movement and rest of the world.

References and Footnotes

  1. We see ourselves as part of a tradition of grad student activists who held a large majority of positions in the union from its organizing drive phase through 2011 and now holds majority sway on some campuses and a minority of positions on others. This tradition of activists never felt the need to name itself, but we describe it as the practical left union leadership, because its analysis of power relationships in and outside of the university always informs and helps to direct its social-justice-oriented goals and politics.
  2. Snow, David. 2001. “Collective Identity and Expressive Forms.” Center for the Study of Democracy, October 1, 2001.
  3. Kurzman, Charles. 2004. “The Poststructuralist Consensus in Social Movement Theory.” In Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper (eds.), Rethinking Social Movements: Structure, Meaning, and Emotions. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  4. Polletta, Francesca and James M. Jasper. 2001. “Collective Identity and Social Movements.” Annual Review of Sociology 27: 285.
  5. Polletta, Francesca. 2006. It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling in Protest and Politics. P. 7. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  6. Polletta, 2006. Pp. 10-11.
  7. Polletta, 2006. P. 62.
  8. AWDU architect Katy Fox-Hodess explains the right-left identity: “In fact, there is more than a kernel of truth to the criticisms from the Chattanooga opposition that unionization was unlikely to produce major gains for the workforce…This is evident in the union’s failure to address the needs of…auto workers working under two-tier contracts.” See https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/02/retooling-the-uaw.
  9. Breines, Wini. 1989. Community and Organization in the New Left, 1962-1968 The Great Refusal. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers
  10. Polletta, Francesca (2012-06-12). Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements (Kindle Locations 160-164). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.
  11. The author of the blog post admits to having altered his article after it was cited by opponents of AWDU in the May 2014 UAW 2865 internal election, but does not specify what he changed.
  12. Members of the union’s bargaining committee discussed the opportunities created by Prop 30 money for student worker raises in 2013-14 and union members also made the committee aware of it through a now defunct rank-and-file dissident website that the committee also discussed extensively.
  13. Gramsci, Antonio. 2005 [1929-1935] The Modern Prince. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. New York: International Publishers.