Sian Moore: New Trade Union Activism: Class Consciousness or Social Identity?

Author:Fowler, Tim
Position::Book review
 
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Sian Moore New Trade Union Activism: Class Consciousness or Social Identity? London: Palgrave, 2010; 192 pp: 9780230244115 (hbk) 50 [pounds sterling]

Of late, union renewal has become a subject of great interest to scholars and union activists alike. Declining rates of unionisation, coupled with the inherently anti-union climate of neoliberal globalisation, have dramatically reduced the political capacity of organised labour. Union renewal strategies have broadly been placed into two distinct camps: the 'servicing model', which is closely connected to business unionism, and the 'organising model', which is associated with social unionism, social movement unionism and community unionism. Moore's work, while not openly identifying itself as part of the debate on union renewal, clearly fits into the larger discussion of union renewal and is a valuable contribution to that literature.

Moore sets out to examine complex intersectionality in organised labour: how class, race, gender, and sexuality all interrelate to construct social identities. From here, Moore shows how social identity, or the absence of politically meaningful social identity, relates to the labour movement. Moore asks, in her words, whether 'the apparent absence of class consciousness or any other active social identity of consciousness reflects the paralysis of the British labour movement and its inability to play any transformative role?' (p. 1). A major theoretical underpinning of the book is the interplay between social identity and class consciousness, and how the two can build upon each other, especially at the workplace. One of the important contributions of this work is to show how the workplace is still an important site for identity construction and the building of class consciousness, but also how the workplace is not the only site where this can happen.

The book is structured around interviews with 30 trade union activists. 'The sample is diverse in terms of gender, race, sexuality, disability and ethnicity with 11 women, including 1 who underwent gender reassignment in the course of the writing of the book; 11 black activists; 6 migrant worker activists and 3 gay male activists' (p. 6). Moore moves between discussions of theory and evidence collected from the interviews with these activists. The theoretical framework of the book is strong, drawing upon Marx, Gramsci, Hyman and others to explore the outline theoretical underpinnings of the trade union movement...

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