Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Frances F. Piven

Subject Categories



Organizing; Power; Social Movements; Strategy; Strikes; Unions


This dissertation will explore how ordinary workers in the new economy create and sustain power from below.

In workplace and community movements, individuals acting collectively have been shown to win victories using a variety of different approaches. In this dissertation, I will argue that different approaches lead to different outcomes, often very different outcomes. I will use a framework throughout of three broad types of change processes; advocacy, mobilizing, and organizing, though my emphasis is on the latter two. And I will argue that each is productive of a different kind of victory.

In arguing my case, that advocacy, mobilizing, and organizing are different approaches to social change that produce different outcomes and relative successes, I will move in, out, and between key arguments in the literature of social movements and unions published over the past forty years: the years when progressive movements began to lose everything they had gained and the right wing began consistently winning back the ground progressives lost. The twelve cases I analyze involved one classic social movement organization, two national unions, and two local unions, one of them also a local of one the nationals. Strikes were utilized as part of the overall strategy in three of the cases. By focusing on campaigns that led to success, I will identify the factors that I argue facilitate rather than inhibit the rebirth of a vibrant workers movement.

This research will contribute to the sociological literature on social movement strategy and power. Specifically, my dissertation will test the current debate about "leaderless movements" and "horizontalism" by sharply focusing on leaders, including who they are, how they are identified, how they develop, the choices they make, and the role they play. The cases involve workforces with mostly women workers, in projected growth sectors of the US labor force (healthcare and education) which are dominated by women. Therefore, my work will address the dearth in the literature about labor organizing in heavily gendered sectors of work. By analyzing the factors that explain successes under new political, economic, and work conditions, I will contribute to new collective action theory, and offer a substantive understanding of how strikes are won in the new millennium.

Included in

Sociology Commons