Social movement unionism

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Social movement unionism (SMU) is a trend of theory and practice in contemporary trade unionism. Strongly associated with the labour movements of developing countries, social movement unionism is distinct from many other models of trade unionism because it concerns itself with more than organizing workers around workplace issues, pay and terms and conditions. It engages in wider political struggles for human rights, social justice and democracy. Social movement unionism grew out of political struggles in developing countries and was theorized as a distinct industrial relations model in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[1]

In this model, trade unions are not distinct from social movements and form part of a wider ecosystem of political activism that includes faith groups, civic and residents' organizations and student groups. These are usually organized into democratic umbrella organizations along a popular front model. The umbrella organization generally has a programme or manifesto that all affiliates commit themselves to.

Kim Moody theorized that the main charachteristics of social movement unionism are:[2]

  • Militancy
  • Internal democracy
  • An agenda for radical social and economic change
  • A determination to embrace the diversity of the working class in order to overcome its fragmentation
  • A capacity to appeal beyond its membership by using union power to lead community struggles.

Usually, the structure of this type of unions tends to implement democratic processess in order to promote more militancy from union members.[2]