Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste: Labor Organizing During covid-19

In: Journal of Labor and Society
Eleni Schirmer UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, 6249C Public Affairs Building, 337 Charles E. Young Drive East, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA, Corresponding author, e-mail:

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Rebecca Tarlau School of Education and Labor and Employment Relations, Pennsylvania State University, 506 Keller Building, University Park, PA 16802, USA,

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This article explores how crises become opportunities. Through a study of a progressive teachers’ union caucus in New York City during the emergence of covid-19, this piece examines how organizations convert crises into opportunities for political growth. Drawing on sociological theories of political articulation and crisis, this article explores the role of union caucuses to foment political change. We argue that crises become politically significant according to how organizations use events to catalyze competing political narratives to drive new political formations. We examine how union caucuses engage in this work. Using ethnographic methods of participant observation and interviews, our study finds that caucuses with established visions, internal organizational structure, and moral legitimacy are better able to take advantage of crises. These conditions allow caucuses to exercise power, not just petition for it. We conclude that the existence of organizational infrastructure and ideological coherence enables a group to convert crises into opportunities.

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