Community Unionism

25 October

Welcome to Community Unionism

Community unionism is a widely used term in union and community practice. I use it to refer to different types of union practice, where unions seek to 'reach out' to the community.

This website is updated by Amanda Tattersall, an Australian union and community activist and academic. There is a new site called Power in Coalition, released in August 2010, that has information on community unionism and community coalitions based on my book Power in Coalition.

The structure of this site is as follows:

First, are a series of research papers I have published or delivered on the topic of community unionism and union-community coalitions.

Secondly, are a series of diagrams and training documents prepared to train union and community organisers and members on how to develop effective community union practice.

Thirdly, is an annotated bibliography of some of the articles I have found very useful for defining and exploring the term.

Fourthly, it provides the contact details and research areas of several key academics in USA, Canada, UK and Australia who are working on this important topic.

If you have any materials you would like displayed on this site, or any other comments, feel free to email.

Also, apologies for the confusing blog format - to find the different sections, scroll down the page.

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20 August

Book: Power in Coalition

How can we change things in an age in which governments are fixated on the bottom line and conventional protest rallies have lost their punch?

Coalitions can be important tools for social change and union revitalisation. What makes them successful? What causes them to fail? Community organiser Amanda Tattersall in Power in Coalition examines successful coalitions between unions and community organisations in three countries: the public education coalition in Sydney, Toronto’s Ontario Health Coalition fighting to save universal health care, and Chicago’s living wage campaign run by the Grassroots Collaborative. She explores when and how coalitions can be a powerful strategy for social change, organisational development and union renewal.

The Power in Coalition website is designed for researchers and organizers (organisers) to provide up-to-date commentary, research and training materials on coalitions between unions and community organizations (organisations). It accompanies the publication of Power in Coalition by Cornell University Press and (Allen & Unwin in Australia) in 2010.

You can purchase the book through Cornell University Press (for international audiences):

Cornell University Press Link

Those in Australia and New Zealand can purchase the book locally through Allen & Unwin:

Allen & Unwin website link

Praise for Power in Coalition:

‘If unions are to maximise their influence in the 21st century they must build alliances with other organisations around economic, social and ecological concerns effecting humanity. This book shows it is possible to build the necessary coalitions to achieve this end.’

Jack Mundey, instigator of the 1970s Green Bans movement in Sydney

‘At last a scholar/activist who understands that coalitions are not merely a way of advancing union goals! Building on three successful coalitions in Australia, Canada, and the United States, Amanda Tattersall identifies three main mechanisms that lead to successful coalition formation between unions and community organizations: identifying common concerns, building organizational relationships, and finding the right scale. She shows how unions can transcend the narrow corporatism of ‘business unionism’ to return to the social movements they once were in a world that has become more complex and more indifferent to the needs of both workers and communities.’

Professor Sidney Tarrow, Cornell University

‘Amanda Tattersall’s book is the most insightful study of coalitions to date. It is not your typical gauzy view of coalition building, but offers a clear-sighted, practical road map to building more effective labor-community coalitions and in turn an opportunity to transform the labor movement.’

Jeff Blodgett, Executive Director, Wellstone Action

‘Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how to build the power of working people in a changing world, Amanda Tattersall’s book is at once timely, practical, inspiring and challenging. Combining analysis of action with useful theory, it provides an important new tool for activists everywhere—in unions or beyond them—who want to build sustained and sustaining coalitions that have the potential to change the world.’

Professor Barbara Pocock, Director, Centre for Work + Life, University of South Australia

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05 November

Paper: Coalitions and Community Unionism

Coalitions and Community Unionism: Using the term community to explore effective union-community collaboration
Union-community collaboration is an increasingly common practice in industrialised nations where union power and density have declined. Purpose: This article proposes a framework for defining and evaluating community unionism, through a definition of the term ‘community.’ Findings and originality: It defines the term community in three discrete but mutually reinforcing ways, as (community) organisation; common interest identity, and local neighbourhood or place. The term is used to then define community unionism as three discrete union strategies, and finally to examine one type of community unionism – coalition unionism. The paper identifies three elements of coalition unionism. Successful coalition practice is defined by partner organisational relationships (coalition structure, bridge brokers and coalition offices); common concern (common interest operates as mutual direct interest of organisation and members), and the element of scale (where success increases as coalitions operate at multiple scales such as the local, as well as the scale of government and/or business decision makers). Methodology: I explore this framework drawing on campaigns in Sydney and Chicago.
[Read More!]
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10 December

Research Paper: Similar themes between US and Australian coalitions

The Shifting Power of Labor-Community Coalitions: Identifying Common Elements of Powerful Coalitions in Australia and the USA

This paper will be published in the journal Working USA, and is jointly authored by David Reynolds and Amanda Tattersall.


This paper presents and explores a theoretical framework of common features across labor-community coalitions. While researchers in both the U.S. and Australia have written about labor-community coalitions, most of this work has focused on profiling “best practices” rather than building a framework for understanding coalition such work in general. This paper argues that all coalitions are defined by four common elements: the nature of common concern, the structure of organizational relationships, organizational capacity and commitment, and the scale of coalition activity. It then uses these elements to identify four different ideal types of coalitions, varying from ad hoc coalitions, to simple coalitions, to mutual interest coalitions to deep coalitions. The paper illustrates the usefulness of this framework by using it to examine sample coalition experiences in the U.S. and Australia. The Australian case displays variation in coalition type within a single ongoing campaign around public education. By contrast, eight sample U.S. living wage efforts demonstrate variation in coalition type among different campaigns.

Click here to download a copy of the Paper [Read More!]
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22 September

Paper: A little help from our friends

This has been submitted for publication in the Labor Studies Journal (USA).

Union renewal and coalition unionism are widely considered necessary, however the different factors that provoke union engagement in coalitions is an under-theorized area of scholarship. This article develops a framework using the term community and the dialectic of opportunity and choice to explore likely factors for long-term union coalitions with community organisations. It then explores this framework by comparing two case studies of union engagement in long-term coalitions in Australia and Canada. The article finds that the dialectic of opportunities and choices is critical, and in particular emphasizes the role of pre-existing union identities, and common interest and decentralized union structures for generating deep union engagement. It highlights that unions are likely to engage in coalition unionism when there is a coincidence of crisis and perceived opportunity for coalition practice, while noting that the depth of union engagement is greatly affected by the type of union actors that initiates coalition participation (whether officials, factions, organizers or delegates). The article finds that different passages for coalition unionism are possible, and they can originate inside unions or be provoked externally by coalitions. It stresses that union leadership support for coalition unionism may be necessary for coalition practice, but it is not sufficient for generating deep union engagement in coalitions.

[Read More!]
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12 August

Paper: Common Themes in Community Unionism in Industrialised Countries

Lessons from long term coalitions in Australia and Canada

This paper was presented at the European Group on Organizational Studies colloquium, sub theme 38: social movement unionism, in Bergen Oslo, 7-9 July 2006.

Union revitalisation strategies in industrialised countries include attempts by unions to reach out to community organisations and engage in community unionism. One form of community unionism is the long term coalition between unions and community organisations. This paper develops a definition of community and community unionism, identifying three key elements that vary coalition practice – organisational relationships, common concern and multi-scalar capacity. These elements are explored in a comparison of the public education campaigns in NSW and the Ontario Health Coalition in Ontario. I find that both case studies develop successful and sustainable forms of community unionism, while also reflecting stark variations in these three elements. I use these two case studies to speculate about how variations in community unionism operate. For instance I argue that there is an ‘agenda-participatory’ form of community unionism, evident in the public education campaign, where there was strong common concern and multi-scalar capacity without a strong structure of organisational relationships. I argue there is a ‘structure-participatory’ form of community unionism, in the Ontario Health Coalition campaign, where there was a strong organisational structure and multi-scalar capacity without a deep common concern connection. The paper highlights that while each of these forms of community unionism contribute to union power, they provide unions with different sources of power and achieve their success as coalitions in different ways. [Read More!]
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15 July

Paper: Solidarity Whenever

Solidarity Whenever? A framework for understanding when unions are likely to join long-term union-community coalitions

Presented at the ACREW Conference in Prato, July 2007

Union renewal and union collaboration with the community is widely considered necessary. Consequently the different opportunities and choices that create the structure and agency for unions to renew is an important but under-theorised area of scholarship. This paper develops a framework using the term community and the dialectic of opportunity and choice to explore likely factors for long-term union coalitions with community organisations, then explores this framework by a comparison of union engagement in long-term coalitions in Australia and Canada. The paper finds that the dialectic of opportunities and choices is critical, and in particular emphasises the role of pre-existing union identities and decentralised union structures, the existence of crisis and opportunity, the importance of common interest and the different roles that union leaders or union factions, organisers and delegates can play in pushing for change. The paper finds that different passages for community unionism are possible, and they can be both internal to the union and come from coalitions. It also finds that the different passages for community unionism directly affect the kinds and depth of union engagement that results.

Download Solidarity Whenever by clicking here [Read More!]
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25 May

Paper: There is Power in Coalition: a framework for assessing how and when union-community coalitions are effective and enhance union power

Published 2005 Labour and Industry.

Proposals for union revitalisation suggest the importance of unions reaching out to the community and the formation of union-community coalitions. Yet analysis of how this process of ‘reaching out’ can be most effective for building union power and advancing union renewal is little understood. This paper presents a framework for assessing union-community coalitions, and how different types of coalitions offer varying possibilities for enhancing the power of unions. The framework extends from ad hoc coalitions to complex integrated ‘deep coalition’ forms. I identify a series of coalition features - common interest, structure, organisational buy-in and scale – and argue that they are key determinants of coalition variation and effectiveness. I also explore how these different coalition forms provide increasing possibilities for union power, and promote possibilities for union renewal. I argue that the possibilities for union power and union transformation are increasingly likely when there is broader and deeper interconnection between unions and community organisations within the coalition form.

Download Power in Coalition by clicking here [Read More!]
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12 May

Paper: Labor's place in coalition: for the Unted Association for Labor Educators May 2006

This is a conference paper for the UALE Conference in May 2006. It adapts a published paper from Labour & Industry 1995 (below, There is Power in Coalition) and uses mainly US and Canadian examples to illustrate.

Download Labor's Place in Coalition Paper [Read More!]
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25 April

Paper: Bringing the Community In: Possibilities for public sector union success through community unionism

Accepted for publication in the International Journal of Human Resources Management, special edition on Australian public sector employment relations 2006. For a PDF copy please email, Amanda Tattersall School of Business, University of Sydney

Public sector employment relations are increasingly difficult for public sector unions. This paper uses the concept of community unionism to explore how and when relationships between unions and community organisations may enhance union power and success in bargaining and policy reform. The paper uses a case study of the NSW Teachers Federation and their four year campaign for public education between 2001 and 2004. This case study shows the success of long term deep alliances between parents and teachers in achieving policy reform, while highlighting some limitations for community unionism strategy in salary negotiations. The paper concludes that community unionism is a viable strategy for public sector unions, and suggests that organisational relationships, common interest and multi-scalar forms of activity are important elements of success.

Keywords: public sector employment relations, labour-community coalitions; community unionism; community; union strategy.

Download Bringing the Community in [Read More!]
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01 February

Paper: Union-Community Coalitions and Community Unionism

Union-Community Coalitions and Community Unionism: developing a framework for the role of union-community relationships in union renewal; A look at the pattern of recent relationships between unions and community organisations in NSW, Australia
Paper submitted to International Colloquium on Union Renewal Conference
HEC Montreal, Montreal, Quebec; November 18th to 20th 2004
Amanda Tattersall; Work and Organisational Studies, University of Sydney

Relationships between unions and community organisations are an important feature of current strategies for union renewal. This paper develops a three part typology that categorises these union-community relationships, ranging from simple instrumental union-community relationships, to union-community coalitions and finally to community unionism. The paper argues that the deeper the union-community relationship, the more likely it is to yield union power and achieve successful campaign victories. The paper then explores this typology by analysing three case studies that consider each of these relationship forms, examining some recent practices of the Central Labor Council in Sydney Australia (Labor Council of NSW). Through these case studies the limitations and strengths of each of these relationship types are drawn out. The most important lesson is that effective union-community relationships require not only a relationship of trust and reciprocity between the coalition partners, but most importantly require a significant depth of commitment and participation by unions

Download Union-Community Coalitions and Community Unionism

For information about the conference, see . [Read More!]
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01 January

Conference Paper: Getting it Together, understanding the practice of political coalitions

Paper Delivered at Association of Pacific Rim Universities Doctoral Students Conference, August 2005 Eugene Oregon. Written by Amanda Tattersall. Work and Organisational Studies, University of Sydney,

An updated version of this paper is 'There is Power in Coalition.'

A key issue for 21st century political activism is how union and community organizations can work effectively together in political coalition. The 1998 ‘turtles and teamsters’ alliance in Seattle popularized coalitions between community organizations and unions as an effective strategy for political change. Since then, political coalitions have become a common feature of movements seeking political power. In particular in industrialized nations, unions are turning towards ‘the community’ to build alliances to increase their power in negotiations with employers and the state. Yet research on political coalitions is inadequate; there is insufficient analysis of when alliances are likely to effectively deliver political outcomes or stronger social movements. This paper develops a framework for political coalitions in order to explain when and how they are likely to be effective. It reframes existing literature by organizing current debates into a typography that analyses ascending categories of coalition effectiveness. It identifies four different types of political coalitions: ad hoc coalitions, support coalitions, progressive coalitions and deep coalitions. The article then identifies four key criteria that vary the effectiveness of coalitions – the issue/common interest that unites the coalition, the structure and strategy that links the parties, the extent of organisation/union participation and the scale of the campaign and the coalition.

Donwload Getting it Together [Read More!]
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01 November

Training: Rainbow Coalitions - a framework for unions

This is a simple diagram for unions to use as a guide for how to build sustainable, long term coalitions.

Download Rainbow Diagram
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18 October

Training: Powerful Community Unionism, Kentucky Presentation

This is a handout for a presentation I will deliver in Kentucky on building powerful community unionism. The materials below are missing a series of diagrams (which are included in the PDF). To find out more about the training materials, contact [Read More!]
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02 May

Annotated Bibliography of Community Unionism

Click on [read more] to view an alphabetised list and, where available, copies of some of the articles I have found useful for defining and discussing community unonism.

The ones marked with an astrisk (*) are specific organising guides produced for and by union and community organisers about how to do on the ground organising.

Where multi-disciplinary, I have marked the discipline in brakets at the end, such as [labour geogrpahy] or [social movement theory].

If you have suggestions of articles that should be added please send the citation, a one-two sentence description and a PDF copy of the article to [Read More!]
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