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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cultures of Creativity: Politics, Leadership and Organizational Change in the U.S. Labor Movement

  • Author(s): Sharpe, Teresa Christine
  • Advisor(s): Voss, Kim
  • et al.

This dissertation uses case studies of four service-industry labor unions to explore the causes of union revitalization in the United States labor movement. While the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) were able to undergo processes of internal transformation by

the late 1990s, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) were not.

This project illustrates how successfully revitalized unions were able to foster "cultures of creativity," which inspired new organizing strategies and new understandings about what a union should be. Two factors were particularly important to the generation of these cultures. First, cohorts of social movement outsiders brought new ideas to these unions. Second, revitalized unions had organizational structures that were decentralized enough for experimentation, but centralized enough for coordination, meaning that outsiders had the space to experiment and unions had the infrastructure to learn from, and scale up, those experiments that were successful.

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