The Labour Movement's Drivers and Barriers | Free Essay Example

The Labour Movement’s Drivers and Barriers

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Topic: Sociology


The Labour Movement is a protest group that plays a major role in calling for changes in society. The movement enjoys a presence in most countries in the world and holds powerful roles in advocating for the rights of workers. This essay looks at the factors that facilitate the mobilization of the Labour Movement, as well as the factors that militate against the Labour Movement. The Labour Movement is represented by trade unions, whose membership is comprised of workers from various sectors of the economy (Lecture notes week 2).

Factors that facilitate the Mobilization of the Labour Movement

The world witnessed increased production during the early 1960s due to the post-industrial era. Technology had improved, thereby helping in enhancing the lives of the people. Higher living standards led to a service economy that focused on individuals. The effects of wealth distribution were mainly felt by the middle class, who formed the largest share of the workforce. Their wealth increased exponentially due to economic improvements. Science also guaranteed continuous development. Rational planning was embraced and it acted as a better alternative to irrational political conflict (Sweney 2014).

Working class militancy

The working class militancy began to revive in the 1960s to the 1970s. It was a form of radicalism, which differed greatly from what was seen in the 1840s. Improvements in industries and working conditions led to an increase in confidence among the working class (Reiss, 2007). Close interactions within the factories led to an increase in trust and unity amongst the workers. This led to unanimous decisions when it came to militant actions. The legal environment was also worker-friendly. Workers were required by labour laws to join unions to promote industrial democracy. This increased the numbers of workers in unions significantly. For instance, workers’ unions in the UK witnessed an increase of membership from 4 million in the 1950s to a peak of 13.2 million in 1979 (Lecture notes week 4).

Workers felt dissatisfied due to a variety of reasons, leading to protests. In many protests, employees demanded higher wages and improved working conditions. With the improved economies, it was only right for workers to enjoy their hard work. They also demanded higher wages because the cost of living was increasing over the years. Though minimal, any increase in the living cost had a significant impact on the workers, especially those who worked in labour intensive jobs that had less pay (Lecture notes week 4).

Moral resources

Moral resources were vital, as there was a close relationship between workers and students. This led to increased mass movements, thereby influencing the leadership easily. The autocrats began to see that they not only had to heed to the demands of the powerful and wealthy, but they also had to consider the needs of the growing middle class that enjoyed the support of the students (Diani & Porta 2006).

Initially, political parties enjoyed the monopoly of making all the political decisions in a country. They were at the forefront in influencing policies that had an impact on the people. The political parties acted as the link between the people and the state. This changed, as people became more involved in the political decisions, especially after the suffrage was extended to women in the 1920s (Bell 2000). Everyone participated in the democratic process of their country to ensure that the decisions made were beneficial to everyone. Resultantly, the civil society arose powerfully. Its voice had a significant effect on how the country was run.

Varied factors were attributed to this trend. At the forefront was an increasing educated citizenry. Many people had advanced levels of education and were keen to be part of the decision making process. New communication methods also emerged, which increased the spread of information. For instance, the television acted as an effective medium to reach a wide population when it came to deciding on new policies (Sinclair 2010).

Resource mobilization theory

Mobilisation structures arise from the resource mobilisation theory, which depends on two concepts. The first concept is that the supporters of mobilisation theory dispute the idea that the issues that arise in the society determine the behaviour of the protestors. Instead, they believe that social organisation is a requirement for achieving social action. The second concept emphasises that collective action is dependent on the availability and mobilisation of resources (Alinsky, 2010).

Mass mobilizations in the current age are organised in a number of ways. When an issue arises, people begin to form an opinion about the issue. For some, the issue becomes controversial to a point where implementing change is necessary. More people begin to see the reasons why they should come together to provide a stronger force for the change. Mass media campaigns can be conducted by the unions. The media is also involved in the collection of funds and the organisation of events to increase support for the cause. An example of an organisation that mobilizes people and resources is the, which is a website that tasks itself with influencing change in many societies. It deals with raising funds and increasing awareness about issues that are seen as problematic in society (Sweney 2014).

Many protests tend to happen after limitations in the legal systems. In many cases, problems are left for the courts to solve. If the people feel short-changed about the court verdict, then emotions are bound to form in influencing a different verdict. People may arise and, through the unions, encourage a review of the verdict or influence the political system to consider a new solution to the problem (Guilhot 2011).

Protests are effective methods of influencing change in society, especially collective action that is sustained. Good organisation is also important, as it provides a strategy for sustenance. More people are made aware of the issues through the mass media, thereby increasing support for the union. Politicians may also join the fray, especially if a large number of their constituents share views with the movements. This makes protests effective methods for necessitating change (Lecture notes week 3).

Political opportunity model

Movements that enjoy popular support, especially from influential politicians, tend to be more successful than those that get the support of a minority only. A few people do not have the power to keep the strength of a movement. In addition, the attempts of the people to mobilize become more futile if the political system does not share the movement’s change-oriented goals. The political system is characterised by opportunities and constraints. If opportunities exist, then there is no need for extensive resources to facilitate the movement (Freeden, Sargent, & Stears 2013).

Cultural factors

Collective action is also impacted by cultural factors. People might begin to feel frustrated by their political and economic systems, making them view their culture as a major means of causing change. Individuals start to perceive themselves as worse off in comparison to their expectations. The benefits and the social costs in a society are measured before a collective movement becomes a reality. For instance, the murder of a citizen within a foreign country can be perceived as noncommittal or a threat to national identity, leaving it to collective action to defend the foreigners (Malley-Morrison, Mercurio & Twose 2013).

Cultural values and norms are important in the cultural context of labour movements because they form the basis for finding similarities in a large group of people with shared cultures. Coming together to make collective decisions becomes easier, as people are aware of their identities. Shared values can be seen through a variety of things, like slogans, symbols, clothes, songs, and rituals. It is an advantage because it gives the protest an identity. It also acts as an external image that can be helpful in encouraging support for the group. This was evident among workers in the 1960s, when attire and the way of living were similar among the movement members (Lecture notes week 1).

Framing is also a factor that influences labour movements, as it gives the movement an identity. Framing provides a means for those not involved to understand what the intentions of the groups are. An example is the “Occupy” movement. The slogan itself makes it more effective. The movement’s members are involved in literally occupying specific public places as a way of advancing their ideas (McAdam, Tilly & Sidney 2001).

Methods of collective action

Mass movements apply a variety of methods as a sign of collective action. The methods can also be considered as a repertoire of controversies that are designed and used by the protest groups. Protests do not turn out to be effective without the protest methods. As mentioned earlier, the “Occupy” movement is a method of civil disobedience, which acts as a means of protesting. Mass protesters conduct activities that are contrary to their civil expectations. This way, those in the authority are influenced to listen to the protestors. Marches can also be used, such as the marches in the Hong Kong protests. It involves a huge number of protestors with the sole intention of influencing change through the masses (Sinclair 2010).

Strikes are a common method of collective action for people who make up unions, such as trade workers. Enjoying membership of a specific organisation ensures that there is a general agreement about collective action when need be. Pressure groups arise among the people, who comprise those who are in the upper echelon of the trade unions. The groups can try to lobby the authorities for their demands to be met before organising a mass movement. Petitioning can also be employed. Petitioning does not involve the physical presence of the protesters, but the use of signatures to show support for a cause. The petition is then forwarded to the relevant authorities to make changes. In extreme cases, violence is applied as a means of collective action. It tends to show the urgency of the need to solve specific issues affecting people (Bookchin 2008).

New means of collective action emerge with advancements in technology. They include hacktivism, which involves the sabotage of computer networks or websites to send a message. Political theatre and media stunts are also used as a means of increasing awareness about a given problem, while still entertaining the viewers. Technology has led to improvements in the methods of protests because it has a greater mass appeal due to a greater number of people that is reached compared to the traditional means. Technology has also enhanced traditional methods of mass action. For instance, technology increases the audience of a petition (Carey 2009).

Factors that Militate against Labour Movements

Although there are various modes of protest movements, the strategies are similar between groups and transverse through countries and continents. The strategies can be considered as universal and dependent on circumstances to be effective. For instance, the presence of numbers in unions makes the use of mass demos the best choice of mass action. If the external logic is to cause damage, then strikes are a better option. In such a case, the seriousness of the issue is brought into the light and it becomes difficult to ignore the seriousness of the problems affecting the people. Internal objectives also influence the method of protest. Mobilisation is an option that encourages more support, where numbers of protestors swell within a short time (Lecture notes week 4).

Labour movements try to ensure that they enjoy support for a long period. Sustaining the movement guarantees that the needs of the people are met in the long run. Moreover, those involved in the protests should also be innovative and come up with new ways of protesting. Capturing media’s attention is also important to increase awareness. Without media attention, the protest group is no longer considered viable. The lack of a cultural identity also makes it harder for people to find a context for collective action. For instance, the working class identity faced a decline in the 1980s and the preceding years, meaning that class could not be considered as a key identity for bringing people together (Bell 2000).

Coming up with new tactics also prevents the authorities from thwarting protest movements. This keeps the authorities uninformed on how to deal with the protestors or downplay the intentions of the protesters. If the state is repressive in nature, then labour movements are constrained in playing their roles. The age of the participants and the position they occupy within the social structure are also important, especially in countries like India, where the society is differentiated by castes (Johnston & Noakes 2005). Collective action occurs easily if it involves members of a similar caste, in comparison to individuals from different castes.

Mass mobilisation decreased from the 1980s to today among workers due to the lack of resources. Membership also began to decline over the years as a result of a failing industrial sector. Fragmentation began, as more small scale industries emerged. This meant that fewer people saw the need to be members of unions. With larger industries emerging, a greater percentage of people shared similar beliefs and needs. Such industries no longer existed after the 1980s. The diminishing membership also had an effect on unions to an extent that they became less effective in their roles; they enjoyed 17% support only in 2006, according to Eurobarometer (Lecture notes week 4).

Mass mobilisation by labour movements is an important strategy for ensuring that the needs of the people are met by those in power. Many protest groups emerged with a variety of needs in the 1960s to the 1980s. They evolved over time, adopting various strategies to advance their causes. Workers unions had a significant impact during this period, but they also began to decline. Since the 1990s, the influence and impact of the workers’ unions have reduced dramatically. Despite this, a variety of protest tactics exist and they are applied in different scenarios to advance various causes.

Reference List

Alinsky, SD 2010, Rules for radicals: A practical primer for realistic radicals, Vintage Books, New York, NY.

Bell, D 2000, The end of ideology: on the exhaustion of political ideas in the fifties, Harvard University Press, London, UK.

Bookchin, M 2008, The Third Revolution: Popular movements in the Revolutionary Esra, Cassell, London, UK.

Carey, SC 2009, Protest, repression and political regimes: an empirical analysis of Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, Routledge, London, UK.

Diani, M & Porta, DD 2006, Social movements: An introduction, Wiley, New York, NY.

Freeden, M, Sargent, LT & Stears, M 2013, The Oxford handbook of political ideologies, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Guilhot, N 2011, The invention of international relations theory: Realism, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the 1954 Conference on theory, Columbia University Press. New York, NY.

Johnston, H & Noakes, JA 2005, Frames of protest: Social movements and the framing perspective, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Chicago, IL.

Lecture notes week 1, Protest and collective action: Concepts and definitions.

Lecture notes week 2, Contexts and conditions for collective action

Lecture notes week 3, Protest tactics and repertoires of contention.

Lecture notes week 4, The Labour Movement.

Malley-Morrison, K, Mercurio, A, & Twose, G 2013, International handbook of peace and reconciliation, Springer, New York, NY.

McAdam, D, Tilly C & Sidney, G 2001, Dynamics of contention, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Reiss, M (ed) 2007, The street as stage: protest marches and public rallies since the nineteenth century, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Sinclair, A 2010, International relations theory and international law: a critical approach, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Sweney, M 2014, raises $25m from media heavyweights in fresh funding round, Web.