Political socialization, bridging organization, social movement interaction: The Coalition of Labor Union Women, 1974--1996

Date of Completion

January 1997


Women's Studies|Sociology, General|Sociology, Industrial and Labor Relations




This dissertation is a case-study of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), a feminist organization founded in 1974 as a result of the diffusion of feminist consciousness in the labor movement and the mobilization for the Equal Rights Amendment. CLUW later on became one of the support groups of the labor federation AFL-CIO. Regular membership is restricted to union members and includes men. About a third of the membership are women of color. The case-study analyzes the historical context and political opportunity structure in which CLUW was formed and suggests that social movement scholarship should pay more attention to processes of social movement interaction. The concept of bridging organizations is introduced as one mechanism of social movement interaction. Bridging organizations like the Coalition of Labor Union Women represent attempts to reconcile multiple and sometimes conflicting identities.^ The analysis indicates that race, class, and feminist consciousness are not mutually exclusive, but mutually supportive. Many members of CLUW have been active in the women's, civil rights, peace movement, and community politics. The formation of bridging organizations is thus simultaneously a result of processes of political socialization and provides the context for such socialization processes. Within the Coalition of Labor Union Women four membership types, each representing a different brand of working class feminism, are distinguished. The collective identity of the organization--represented in its organizational structure, goals and strategies--was created in interaction of these different membership types. Members differed in their interpretation of the four goals of the organization: bringing more women into union leadership, organizing the unorganized, bringing more women's issues on the labor agenda, and involving women in political action. The dissertation draws on life-history, in-depth interviews, and expert interviews with current and former members of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and representatives of the women's movement and the labor movement, participant observation, the analysis of documents put out by the organization, and a membership survey (N = 524). ^