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Side by Side We Battle Onward? Representing Workers in Contemporary America

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Abstract

As collective bargaining in the United States declines, diverse forms of worker representation are proliferating. Strategic dilemmas of representation are central to the diverse organizations and coalitions representing disparate aspects of workers' interests. Unions continue to bargain collectively, while forming alliances with other groups and providing an array of services to members. Other organizations and loose associations represent specific aspects of workers' interests and advocate on their behalf while stopping short of collective bargaining. This article compares the scope, objectives and methods of worker representation by unions and non-bargaining actors. It argues that the key dilemmas of which workers to represent, over what issues and through which organizational forms, apply both to unions and to non-bargaining actors, such as community organizations, and advocacy groups, which represent select interests of particular workers. These non-bargaining actors are key strategic allies for unions. While these organizations do not take on collective bargaining, they are sometimes better positioned to represent other key needs and interests of workers. The legal-political and mutual insurance needs of workers are sometimes well met by these emergent groups. However, these organizations do not, and cannot, provide the advantages of traditional collective bargaining.

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