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  • Peter Ikeler is a PhD student in Sociology at the City University of New York, Graduate Center, and an adjunct instructor at LaGuardia Community College and Queens College, CUNY. Originally from the greater Boston area, he completed a master's degree in European Culture and Economy at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany in 2009, during which time he was involved in youth organizing with the new left party, DIE LINKE. His areas of research include globalization, labor, and labor movements, with a particular focus on union organizing among retail and other service workers.

Peter Ikeler, Sociology Department, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Ave. Rm. 6112. New York, NY 10016, USA. Tel: +001-718-514-0003. E-mail:


Building on previous research that denotes the centrality of retail trade and employment to twenty-first-century U.S. capitalism, this article explores the potential for union organizing within the U.S. retail sector. First, I review U.S. Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Bureau of Economic Analysis data to assess where “structural power” exists for retail workers and, failing this, the extent to which “associational power” would be needed to counteract employer prerogatives. Then, I discuss the current state of retail unionism and recent organizing campaigns, from which four strategies for union growth are derived: supply-chain leveraging, global city targeting, occupational unionism, and global unionism. Although supply-chain leveraging appears to offer the greatest potential strength for organizing efforts, I argue that intervening factors, such as worker consciousness, union prerogatives, the extent of interunion cooperation, and specific tactics employed, may provide more immediate efficacy for other strategies.