The Political Imagination: An Introduction to American Government

Peter Kolozi and James Freeman


Social Movements

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

Frederick Douglass, 1857


Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively.  More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will.  We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.  Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.  We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963


There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.

Audre Lorde



After reading this chapter you should be able to define the following terms.


Social Movements                   de jure segregation                              negative freedom

Labor union                             Civil Rights Act (1964)                      positive freedom

Collective bargaining              Voting Rights Act (1965)                   suffragettes

Wagner Act (1935)                 de facto segregation                            Equal Pay Act (1963)

Civil Rights


On August 28, 1963 at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his historic “I Have Dream” speech.  Decrying poverty, segregation and discrimination across American society, King implored the federal government to act, refusing to accept that “the bank of justice is bankrupt” (King 1963.)  In the early part of the twentieth century millions of African Americans migrated from the rural South to urban areas across America.  Many African Americans relocated to St. Louis, Missouri in search of greater opportunity in schooling, housing and employment. By 1963 the city was highly segregated, particularly in employment. Out of 5,100 workers in the city’s banks, just 277 were black, with 99% working custodial positions (Malone 2013). 

Two days after King’s speech, Norman Seay picketed outside the newly opened Jefferson Bank and Trust Company, the city’s first new bank since 1928. When the bank opened it had no black tellers, managers or any white-collar employees.   Local civil rights leaders tried for years to convince the bank to hire black workers, with no result. Seay, inspired by King, organized residents, depositors and employees to boycott the bank.  Seay and over a dozen other protestors were arrested. Seay was sentenced to a county jail/workhouse for 90 days (Lockhart 2010). Still, the protests continued, demanding equal opportunity in employment at both the Jefferson Bank and throughout the city’s workforce. Protestors were convinced that their demonstrations and boycotts were necessary to address addressing social injustice, stating, the employers, “need to be forced into doing the right thing” (O’Neil 2016).

By 1964 the bank hired four African Americans for white-collar positions and soon, over 1,300 positions across the city were filled by African American workers. Fifty years later, in August 2013, with the weather approaching 102 degrees, an 81-year old Seay marched again outside the Jefferson Bank, this time alongside fast food workers demanding an increase in the state minimum wage, as well as retired coal miners protesting cuts in their health care (Frankel 2013).  Committed to the transformative power of activism Seay continued his efforts for greater equality, turning his attention to youth unemployment, poor education, racism and sexism, all of which prevent people from reaching their potential. In December 2013, President Barack Obama acknowledging Seay’s commitment to social justice, invited Seay to the White House to meet him personally (Rivas 2013).


Social Movements and the Transformation of America

The structure, institutions, and processes of the US political system including federalism, Congress, the Presidency, the Courts and elections are the institutional and the normal political processes by which the people may influence government decisions and public policy.  In addition, civil liberties such as the freedom of speech, press, assembly, and petition are essential means by which the people become knowledgeable about the issue, vocalize their concerns, form organizations, pressure government to act in the people’s interests, and hold government officials accountable.  Having the freedom to criticize government, to campaign for public office, and otherwise engage in electoral politics have been important features of American liberal democracy.  These civil liberties and political freedoms are basic to a democratic form of government.  Yet, since the country’s founding, many people were denied the right and opportunity to fully participate in the political system as equals.  In the first decades of the country’s history the right to vote was largely limited to white men with property.  The freedom of speech, particularly the freedom to criticize government officials was severely curtailed.  After much struggle throughout the country’s history the space for electoral and institutional politics has been made more inclusive than it was in the past.  The inclusion of poor and working-class people, people of color, women, and other marginalized groups into the US political system as equal citizens is the product of protest, political conflict, and overcoming great resistance.  As the great 19th century abolitionist, Frederick Douglass stated, “if there is not struggle, there is not progress…power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never did and it never will.”   Today, people of different social classes, racial groups, ethnicities, religions, genders and sexual orientations may exercise their first Amendment rights to form organizations.  They may criticize, petition, and lobby government officials and offer alternative policy ideas.  They may form political parties and run candidates for political office.  And they have the right to vote.  Each of these rights are essential democratic freedoms that have allowed America from different walks of life to participate in the countries institutional and electoral politics.

But electoral and institutional politics alone do not account for political change over the course of the nation’s history.  More often than not, throughout US history government officials were pressured to expand and protect the people’s rights and freedoms because of the power of protest exerted by the activism of social movements.  Protest or disruptive politics by social movements is another way to do politics.  It is a way for people who have been excluded or marginalized from regular political channels to have the access and influence in government and over public policy.  The protest activity of social movements have been key agents of social and political transformation throughout US political history and continue to be important political actors for social, political and economic change in the present.

The last several years has witnessed a renewal of mass protest in the US. In 2017, following the election of President Donald Trump over 4 million people demonstrated in Women’s March events across the country.   The following year, in response to yet another school mass shooting, students led huge March for Our Lives demonstrations throughout the country. The demonstration in Washington DC attracted over 200,000 people.  In 2019, 30,000 Los Angeles teachers went on strike to pressure California elected officials for more nurses and counselors in schools, better wages for teachers, and increased funding for public schools.  In the same year, 48,000 General Motors autoworkers went on strike to end the two-tier system and increase wages and benefits for younger workers.  Also, in 2019, tens of thousands of young people walked out of schools and participated in the Climate Strike demonstrations.  Over 60,000 people participated in New York City alone. And in 2020, following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota massive Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests erupted all over the country (and internationally).  The Black Lives Matter movement protest are largest ever in US history in which, according to some estimates, over 20 million people participated (Buchanan et al 2020).  For weeks millions of people held vigils, rallies, marched and demonstrated against police brutality, racism, and inequality.  They called on the law enforcement officers responsible be punished.  More importantly, they demanded that elected officials enact systemic changes to policing and racial inequality in recognition that “black lives matter.”  As a result of the protests a number of reforms were instituted across US cities and states including bans on police use of choke holds, greater transparency of police misconduct, commitments to significantly reorganize police departments, and promises to shift funds from law enforcement to social programs in poor and black communities.  These are just a few contemporary examples of the persistence of social movement protest activism calling attention to and attempting to exert political pressure on behalf of workers, women, young people, and the planet’s future.

Disruptive, protest politics have a long history in the US beginning well before the country’s founding (Meyer).  In the colonial era, poor American farmers rebelled against their landlords.  Slaves rose up against their owners.  Colonists petitioned, marched, boycotted, and eventually revolted against British rule in a social movement that culminated in American independence.  Similarly, progress in women’s rights, civil rights of racial and ethnic minorities, labor rights of workers, and the rights of LGBTQ people have resulted from the protest activities and disruptive politics of social movements.  The Civil and Voting Rights Acts (1964 and 1965, respectively) and the historic Presidential election of Barack Obama would not have happened without thousands of people engaged in political activism. Women would not have the right to vote without the tireless efforts of women organizing marches, pickets, hunger-strikes, and civil disobedience in the late 1800s and early 1900s leading to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.  Women might not have the right over their reproductive health, or have access to careers in socially-esteemed professions had it not been for the activism of feminists demanding government lift legal bans on access to contraceptives and abortion and enforce laws providing for gender equality in the workplace.  Had it not been for the labor movement and labor unions there would be no such thing as the 8-hour work day, the forty-hour work week and the weekend, overtime pay, minimum wage laws, and the ban on child labor and a host of other regulations that protect working people from super-exploitation by employers. The strikes, occupations, economic boycotts, pickets, lobbying, and the electoral strength of each of these movements created the pressure that brought on these progressive changes.  Other movements have also impacted public policy in the US.  The consumer protection movement and the environmental movements have brought public attention to human caused climate change and environmental degradation, as well as dangerous consumer products and the companies that make and sell them.  As a result, government officials have been pressured to enact public policy with regard to consumer product safety, regulations on food and medicine, as well as clean air, water, and support of natural resources and public parks.  While much more needs to be done to protect consumer safety and promote a healthy, sustainable environment the impact on the public consciousness and public policy has been significant.

In the 21st century the US is a much different country than it was in the century before the emergence and achievements of the labor, African American civil rights, and women’s movements that will be discussed in this chapter.  Many problems and injustices exist, but significant progress has been achieved making the country more inclusive than it was at its founding.  It is because of the activism of social movements that people have many of the opportunities and liberties that they do today.  It is because of the political strength and pressure exerted by social movement activists on government officials and economic elites that forced these powerful decision-makers to make concession and enact policies and programs tending toward greater equality of opportunity and inclusiveness.

Yet, in acknowledging the progress made because of the protest activity of movement activists we also have to acknowledge the shortcomings of their achievements.  The Wagner Act (1935) did much to improve the condition and wages of working people in America.  Yet, in 2019 far too many people remain impoverished, or barely living above poverty.  Many are economically insecure, living paycheck to paycheck, and lack basic essentials such as adequate housing and healthcare.  Similarly, the Civil and Voting Rights Acts (1964 and 1965) did much to eliminate legal racial segregation and discrimination, yet segregated schools and communities persist in contemporary America.  Levels of income and wealth of people of color continue to lag far behind those of whites.  The Equal Pay Act (1963) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (1993) are important achievements for women in the workplace, but women today still earn roughly twenty per cent less than men.  The US is still the only wealthy, developed country in the world without paid family leave.  Acknowledging the political shortcomings achieved by these social movements is not to dismiss their importance or to underestimate their impact on American society and politics.  Instead, it is to acknowledge the work the political struggle for equality and freedom continues into the present.


Defining Social Movements

A social movement can be defined as a people organized and acting collectively, employing at least some non-institutional methods of political activity including disruptive actions such as marches, rallies, demonstrations, pickets, strikes, occupations, economic boycotts, and acts of civil disobedience to make social change (Staggenborg 2016).  Social movements are “collective and sustained efforts that challenge existing or potential laws, policies, norms, or authorities, making use of extra-institutional and institutional political tactics” (Meyer, 2015). Social movements do not occur over-night.  They are built and develop though organizations that motivate people around an issue or grievance.  Social movement organization bring people together and mobilize them to act together.  Social movements sustain protest activities over long periods of time.  Social movements are not one-time protests.  Rarely can a one-time action such as a demonstration or a rally create long-term social change.  Political change is not that easy.  The occupants in positions of power, be they political, economic, or social do not alter their views, change policy, and give up their privileges and control under such little duress.  An effective social movement must be in it for the long haul.

Social movement organizations are collective entities that seek to influence politics.  But they differ from other collective entities such interest groups and political parties that also seek to influence politics.  Interest groups are formally structured organizations that seek to influence government policy by employing a combination of strategies including election spending, lobbying elected officials, and media campaigns.  Unlike social movements, interest groups do not typically engage in protest or disruptive activities.  Interest groups typically press their interests and grievances through normal institutional and electoral channels.  Likewise, social movements differ from political parties.  While social movements might work with political parties, social movements themselves do not field candidates for elective office as political parties do.  Nor do social movements seek positions in government.  Instead, social movements typically operate outside of the formal institutions of government, but they do seek to influence those institutions and the people that occupy political and government positions.


What Do Social Movements Do?

As is the case with any political actor, just because an actor exists does not mean that the actor is effective.  There have been many social movements throughout US political history.  Not all of them have been effective or successful in achieving their aims.  In fact, more often than not, social movements do not achieve all they set out to do.  Whether a social movement succeeds depends on a wide variety of factors including their ability to mobilize the aggrieved population, their ability to attract allies to their cause, their ability to raise and sustain resources to continue their work, their ability to attract sympathetic media attention, and their ability to adopt effective strategies and tactics in the face of resistance and repression by those upholding the status quo (Tarrow 1998).  Some of these factors are within the control of social movement organizations themselves.  For instance, social movement leaders can choose how to frame the issue and how to articulate the grievances of people the social movement claims to represent.  Social movement leaders and organizations can determine the strategies and tactics of protest they want to employ.  Should the movement engage in a strike.  Or should the movement engage in lobbying elected officials.  Or should the movement state acts of civil disobedience such as a sit-in.  These are all strategic and tactical decisions social movement activists need to decide.  Likewise, they can choose whether or not they have allies and with which other groups they want to build alliances, coalitions and solidarity.

Yet, other factors impacting the success or failure of social movements are outside of their own control.  For instance, a social movement cannot control the actions of the opposition, including government and elites and the extent to which they accommodate, stall, coopt, or repress the movement and its grievances.  Likewise, the social movement cannot control the extent of elite division among the opposition that the movement can exploit to its advantage.  Typically, if elites are united and not divided the social movement fails.  If there is division among opposition elites, with some being sympathetic to the movement and its grievances, the movement has a better chance to succeed.  Despite so many key factors impacting a movement’s that are out of its control, social movement leaders and organizations must navigate, respond, and adapt to these factors in order to succeed in achieving their political goals.  Thus, social movements are agents of change, but they exist in a larger social, political and economic structure that creates barriers or opportunities that impact the movement’s efficacy.

But even when a social movement does not achieve its social or political goals it nevertheless makes significant impact (Goodwin and Jasper 2015).  One impact is that a social movement can affect the political discourse about an issue by bringing a formerly marginalized political issue into mainstream political debate.  For example, the Occupy Wall Street Movement (2011), while it did not result in any policy changes, it did make economic inequality a prominent issue in contemporary political debate.  A second impact of social movements is that they can build lasting social networks among individuals, groups and organizations setting the foundation for future collaboration in activism and social movement activity.  For instance, while the activist base of the US civil rights movement was primarily in the black church and on college campuses, the movement received significant resources and support from labor unions.  Labor unions lent support in the form of training, financial support, lending organizers, and recruiting unionized workers to participate in civil rights protests and demonstrations.   A final, crucial impact of a social movement is that it may inspire other movements to emerge.  The civil rights movement inspired other movements for social change including the women’s rights movement, the LGBTQ movement, the anti-war movement, and the environmental movement.  Today, the Black Lives Matter movement points to the civil rights and women’s rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s for inspiration and lessons.  Many of these movements adopted some of the same strategies, tactics, and programs for liberation as those used so effectively by social movements of the past.


Social Movements and What They Seek to Accomplish

Not all social movements are the same.  They vary in their political orientation and ideology.  Likewise, social movements vary in the structure of their organization, their strategy and tactics, and in the political goals they aim to accomplish.  Generally, every social movement aims to make some sort of political, social, or cultural change.  Some social movements are reformist. They aim to change existing laws, institutions, or practices without changing the whole existing political, economic or social system.  For instance, much of the contemporary environmental movement is reformist in the sense that it seeks to pressure government, business, and other social institutions to enact policies that reduce greenhouse gases and pollution, protect the world’s ecosystem and wildlife, and address climate change within the confines of a capitalist economy.  Other social movements are revolutionary.  These types of movements aim to overthrow existing economic, political, or social structures and replace them with new ones.  The American movement for independence from Britain was a social movement that became revolutionary once the colonists decided to overthrow the rule of the British king over the colonies and establish another type of regime, a republican regime of elected representatives.

Furthermore, not all social movements are reformist or revolutionary with the aim to expand democracy, liberty, equality, and social, political, and economic inclusion.  Some social movements are ideologically conservative or reactionary.  They seek to preserve or transform society on the basis of hierarchy and inequality (class, racial, ethnic, gender) and on the power of some groups to rule over others.  They view that the basis of freedom of their preferred group is contingent on the subordination of other groups.  For instance, the Redeemer movement in the post-Civil War era sought to maintain white supremacy after the abolition of slavery in the South.  The racial terrorism of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) is an example of a strategy employed by one organization that was part of this movement.  In the 20th century and in the contemporary era the New Right, Christian Right, the Tea Party, and the Unite the Right movements are manifestations of conservative and reactionary movements that seek, depending on the specific movement and organization, to transform US society and politics along an agenda consisting of conservative economic and welfare state policy, conservative Christian gender relations, and undoing the civil rights and women’s rights gains made over the last six decades.

In addition to their overarching aims to change some aspect(s) of society social movements have two broad strategic goals.  Realizing these two strategic goals are essential for the movement’s success.  The first strategic goal is to raise public awareness, knowledge, and understanding of an issue or injustice.  It is to make people aware of an issue they did not know about or to convince people to think about an issue in a certain way.  In other words, one key goal of a social movement is to convince people to become aware of an issue and to understand it as something that needs changing.  To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., direct action protests make an issue that is invisible to the public, visible to the public.  Once people are aware that an injustice is going on, they might be moved to do something to address it.  The second strategic goal of a protest action is to exert material pressure on those in positions of decision-making power to change or enact policies that would address the issue or injustice.  Protests can exert this kind of material pressure.  For instance, as discussed at the beginning of the chapter, sustained pickets in front of a business that discriminates could have the effect of discouraging customers from shopping there.  The threat to the business’ profits might convince the business to change its practices and no longer discriminate.  Similarly, a sit-in or occupation, as occurred at City College (CUNY) in 1969 which shut down the campus, pressured the school administration to change policy to fully racially integrate the university (Gunderson).  Thus, the strategic goals of social movement protest activities are to raise awareness and to create the material pressure to force those in positions of power to act to change policy.


Social Movements and their Opponents

Finally, social movements, their organizations, leaders and activists do not exist in a political vacuum.  They have opponents who seek to ignore or repress the movement and its demands.  Oftentimes, these opponents have more political, economic, coercive, and ideological power (control over the media) than social movement activist do (Philips-Fein 2009; Drier 2011; Botari 2018; DuBois 1935; Foner 1988; Spruill 2017; Markowitz 2013; Union of Concerned Scientists 2009).  These opponents have a stake in the status quo and an interest in preventing social movement from succeeding in realizing their political goals.  Politicians opposed and hostile to labor, civil rights, and women’s rights used law enforcement to violently repress these movements by jailing, beating, and at times killing movement leaders and activists.  Other times, vigilante groups perpetuated violence and terror against activists while law enforcement and government officials ignored their crimes.  Economic elites, owners of business and corporations, refused to hire movement activists, harassed or fired others, and employed private armies to violently repress pickets and labor strikes.  Media often ignored, dismissed, ridiculed, or deliberately misinformed the public about the legitimate grievances and just demands made by social movements, especially those challenging the economic, racial, and gender status quo.

Progress in all facets of American political, economic, social, and private life have not come without struggle. Change in America is the result of sustained legal, electoral, and protest activity in which regular people, creating alliances across the nation, press for freedom, equality and justice. Planning, organizing, dedication, creativity, sacrifice, perseverance, fortuitous political opportunities make for successful social movements. Social movement activism embodies our understanding of democracy as a way of life and the vision to effect change exemplifies the political imagination.  Among the most important and socially transformative social movements in America have been the labor, civil rights, and the women’s rights movements.  Below we examine each of these movements and their impact on American politics and society in greater detail.


Labor Rights Movement:  Equality and Freedom

The labor movement has been among the most impactful social movements in America.  Across a wide spectrum of American life, the labor movement has been largely, although not exclusively, composed of workers who have pressured private business, employers and government for fair pay, safe work environments, the forty hour work week, employment benefits (pension, healthcare, paid vacation and sick days), and freedom from discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race and gender.  Organizationally the labor movement has consisted of a wide variety of groups and allies including civil rights, women’s, immigrants, and consumer advocacy groups, workers’ centers, and workers organized into labor unions.  Labor unions and the labor movement more generally have employed a wide variety of tactics, strategies and means of political participation to pressure employers and government.  Strategies such as legal action, petitioning and lobbying elected officials, and electioneering have at times been successfully employed.  Similarly, protest actions such as boycotts, work slowdowns, strikes, mass demonstrations, and sit-in, and other acts of civil disobedience have also, at times garnered positive results.  Labor unions have been the most consistent and long-standing institution of the labor movement and the most important, consistent, and long-lived civil society institution advocating in the interest of workers in America.   A labor union is an association of workers who join together to collectively bargain for improved wages, working conditions, and other terms of employment with their employers.

Labor unions serve a number of important functions in both the capitalist economic system and in our political system.  First, many labor unions have been important advocates of improving wages, working conditions, and the quality of life of all working people, not just their members (Semuels 2016).  Labor unions negotiate for higher wages and better benefits for their members.  When a city or state has high labor union density, meaning that many workers belong to a union, even non-union workers receive higher wages and benefits.  In addition, a recent study has shown that higher union density is positively correlated with increased opportunities for upward social mobility (Scheiber 2015).  Thus, this is one way in which unions benefit all workers, including those that do not belong to unions.  Second, most unions provide their members with a formal grievance procedure protecting workers from unfair employer discipline and other practices.  Third, labor unions seek to extend greater democracy to the workplace by organizing workers into a collective unit whereby workers can participate and have a voice in the terms and conditions of their employment.  Finally, labor unions have been politically active organizations advocating for the enactment labor regulations such as the right for workers to form unions, eight-hour workday and the weekend, overtime pay, unemployment compensation, the minimum wage, pay equity, child labor laws, and workplace safety.  In addition, unions have pressured government to enact and expand and social welfare programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, affordable housing, access to education, progressive taxation, and civil rights (Lichtenstein 2002).

Why Workers Need Unions:  The Unequal Power Between Bosses and Workers

In a capitalist economy there is an unequal power relationship between those who own the means of production (capitalists/employers) and those who must sell their labor power in order to survive (workers).  The capitalist workplace is hierarchical and undemocratic.  As philosopher Elizabeth Anderson has written in her book Private Government, today’s corporate CEOs are the new totalitarians, who rule over workers lives both in and outside of work (Anderson 2017).  Just think of who has the ultimate power and authority in the workplace.  In a capitalist economy the employer decides who to hire, fire, or promote, but also decides on the wage offered, work schedule, the pace of the work, and workplace health and safety conditions.  The capitalist or employer also decides what is produced, how it is produced, and where it is produced, as well as many workplace regulations such as bathroom and lunch breaks, dress code, and a variety of employee monitoring activities (Kuttner 2014; Kaplan 2015; Kantor and Steitfeld 2015).[1]  The worker because he/she has no other way to make a living must sell his/her labor power (the capability to work) to the capitalist.  Certainly, there is an element of freedom in a capitalist economy (as opposed to slavery or feudalism) in the sense that the worker can decide to which capitalist to sell his/her labor.  However, this is not an altogether free choice.  In fact, there is a significant amount of coercion since the worker must sell his/her labor power to a capitalist and enter into a undemocratic, hierarchical relationship in which the capitalist makes all of the rules and decisions that govern the work-life of his/her employees (Macpherson 1973).  A worker must accept the terms regarding wage/salary, schedule, workplace regulations that a capitalist is offering in order for the worker and his/her family to survive.  The worker must accept these or look for employment elsewhere.  Because workers must sell his/her labor they must accept employment at whatever terms an employer is offering.

The capitalist employs the worker so long as the capitalist can make the desired profit off the workers’ labor power.  Once the capitalist finds other ways to make labor more profitable, such as by replacing workers with machines/technology or by moving production to low-wage markets the capitalist lays off the worker and the worker must try to find other employment to survive.  It is important to note that the profits and power of the capitalist grow as the workers produce increasing profits for the capitalist.  The source of profits are in the workers’ producing “surplus value”.  This means that workers create more value than they are paid in wages.  The way to accumulate profits is for a capitalist to extract more surplus value from his/her employees by making them produce more and/or by lowering the costs of labor in various ways including, automation, speed ups, lengthening the workday, downgrading the workforce (more part time vs. full time workers), outsourcing, and other methods.  The purpose of a capitalist enterprise is to maximize profits. Lowering the costs of labor is a major way to accumulate more profit.  Hence, this is the reason why capitalists have shifted automobile manufacturing to Mexico (as of 2014 the average wage is $2.43 per hour) or why many of our clothes are made in Bangladesh where workers make products for H & M, the GAP, Wal-mart and Lord & Taylor make $66 per month or that Nike sneakers are made in Vietnam by workers who make 69 cents per hour (the total cost of a pair of Nike sneakers is $5.27, what do they sell for in the US?) (Weil 2014; Murray 2014; Safi 2016; Kernaghan 2015).  A recent New York Times article indicated that clothing manufacturers in search of lower labor costs are moving from Asia to lower cost labor markets in Africa.  For instance, to Lesotho in southern Africa where the average monthly wage is $40 (Holson and Abrams 2016).

Low wages and higher profits shift even more power to capitalists over workers.  Greater profits empower capitalists because these profits give them more resources to purchase machines in order to displace more workers or to close existing factories and to pick up and leave for even cheaper labor markets to further lower labor costs and increase profits.  These greater profits increase the economic power of capitalists.

Another factor that makes capitalists/employers more powerful than workers is that an individual worker is relatively easy to replace when there are many other workers available who are unemployed or underemployed and eager to sell their labor.  In many circumstances, even though the workers may feel that the prevailing wages offered by employers are inadequate or the work conditions dangerous, they often have no other choice but to accept employment wherever they might find it or face the consequences of unemployment.  The economist and philosopher Adam Smith, understood that the level of wages, benefits, workplace conditions were not the product of a pure “supply and demand” market mechanism, but the result of the unequal power relationships between workers and employers.  In The Wealth of Nations (1776), Smith wrote:

What are the common wages of labor, depends everywhere upon the contract usually made between those two parties, whose interests are by no means the same.  The workmen desire to get as much, the masters to give as little as possible.  The former are disposed to combine in order to raise, the latter in order to lower the wages of labor.  It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms… In all such disputes the masters can hold out much longer.  A landlord, a farmer, a master manufacturer, or merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks which they have already acquired.  Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year without employment.  In the long-run the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him, but necessity is not so immediate (Smith 2000).


Given this unequal economic relationship, the power available to workers is through their ability to coordinate their interests and act collectively as a union of workers, or labor union.  When workers act collectively as a union they have more power vis a vis their employer than they would if they acted individually.  Thus, a labor union is a countervailing force to the exclusive power of the employer to set the rules and control workers and the conditions and terms of employment.  At its best a labor union introduces a semblance of democracy into the otherwise authoritarian workplace.  Without a union, workers are subject to the arbitrary authority of the employer to decide everything from how much workers get paid, whether they receive employment benefits, their work schedules, workplace conditions (health and safety), and decision over promotions and layoffs.  By contrast, with a union an employer must negotiate some of these issue with the union representatives elected by the workers before making decisions.  As a union, workers collectively negotiate with their employer about wages, benefits, workplace conditions, scheduling and a host of other terms of employment.  Collective Bargaining is the process of negotiation between workers represented by a labor union and the bosses/owners of the company.  The National Labor Relations Act (1935), also known as the Wagner Act, is among the most important labor laws in the US.  The Wagner Act established the right of private sector workers (those not employed by the government) to form labor unions, to have the right to bargain collectively, and to take a number of collective actions, including the right to strike.[2]

The right to strike, or to take away one’s labor is an important power workers have in their struggle for better pay and working conditions.  The Wagner Act was passed by Congress during the Great Depression at a time when rates of unemployment and poverty was very high, wages low, and employers persistently threatened to laying off workers and reducing wages further.  In this context, workers throughout the country went on strike demanding that employers recognize and bargain in good faith with unions and increase workers’ wages.  Hundreds of workers’ strikes occurred in 1934 and early 1935 disrupting production.  Many employers responded by repressing the striking workers.   They fired workers who went on strike.  They hired vigilante groups to harass, intimidate, assault and even kill strike leaders.  And they demanded that law enforcement, the National Guard and the military be called in to break the strike.  However, unlike throughout most of US history when the government served the interest of employers/business and violently repress strikes, in the 1930s government officials exhibited a degree of restraint in dealing with labor agitation.  President Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats in Congress needed the political support of the unions and workers. If they repressed the workers, they would lose their political and electoral support.  As a result, the Democrats and FDR’s response to the strikes and workers’ militancy was the Wagner Act (Piven, 131).  It was a direct government response to the pressure of social movement protest activity.  The act created the legal structure to settle labor/management disputes and collective bargaining of labor contracts.  It was a significant achievement for all workers, whether they belonged to unions or not.  Through the collective bargaining process, along with the use of disruptive actions workers have been able to pressure employers to pay better wages, provide workers with improved benefits and working conditions, and provided workers with more of a voice in their workplace.

Over the course of US history, through collective bargaining and strikes labor unions have won significant workplace and quality of life benefits for their members.  Although labor unions are not as powerful as they were in the 1940s-1970s and union membership throughout the country is lower today than it was then, labor unions continue to provide essential positive benefits for workers.  For example, in comparisons between workers who belong to labor unions and workers who are not represented by labor unions (controlling for occupation, education levels, race, and gender) unionized workers earn $200 more per week, are more likely to have employer provided health care, a pension, paid sick leave and vacation time (Bivens 2017; Anderson 2015; Yates 2009; “Union Members Survey, 2018” BLS).  Similarly, according to a 2016 study entitled “Black Workers, Unions, and Inequality” unionized African American workers earn more money and are much more likely to have employer provided health insurance and a pension than their non-union African American counterparts (Bucknor 2016).  A 2015 study by the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement found that unionized Latino workers earn over $11,000 more than non-union Latino workers (Sanchez, Baten, Barrientos 2015).

The Labor Movement and the Welfare State

Beyond collective bargaining and their role in employee/employer relations, labor unions and the labor movement have played an important role in American politics.  The political activism of labor unions and labor radicals (including progressives, socialists, and communists) have been crucial in pressuring government to enact labor regulations, construct the welfare state, and enact civil rights legislation.  The Fair Labor Standards Act (1938), the legislation that ended child labor, established the 8-hour workday (from 12 or 14 hours in some industries), overtime pay, the minimum wage was the product of political activism and electoral politics by workers and organized labor.  The labor movement was instrumental in pressuring government to enact laws such unemployment compensation, Medicare, and the Social Security Act (1935) (Foner 1998; Lichtenstein 2011).  The Occupational Health and Safety Act (1970) which established workplace health and safety regulations was the product of labor activism. The Family Leave and Medical Act (1993) a law requiring employers with more than 50 workers to provide their employees with 12 weeks job-protected leave in case of illness or birth/adoption of a child was the result of political pressure applied by labor and their allies in the civil and women’s rights movements.  In the area of civil and women’s rights, labor unions have been and continue to be important allies.  In fact, important leaders, such as Betty Friedan of the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s/1970s were active in labor unions in the decades before.  The great civil rights leaders Caesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and A. Philip Randolph were labor leaders.  During the civil rights era, many but not all labor unions provided support to Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights movement organizations (King 2011; Schultz 2008; Garden 2013; Korstad 1988; Allen 1975).  The historical track record of labor unions on racial and gender equality is mixed.  Some unions were openly segregationist and sexist.  Others were gender and race inclusive and integrated and fought at the forefront of struggles for racial and gender equality ( Foner 2017; Allen 1975).  As a result, today forty-five percent of union members are women, while African Americans are the most highly unionized racial group in the nation (Milkman 2017; “Women in Unions” BLS 2018).

Repression and Renewal?  The Labor Movement Today

Throughout US history, employers have at times, tolerated but more often fought to weaken labor unions (Moody 2007).  The labor movement has been the social movement that has been on the receiving end of the most violent and bloody episodes at the hands of business and their allies in government in American history.  Corporations have employed both legal and illegal means to prevent unionization and destroy the labor movement.  Employers have fired worker activists who have attempted to organize labor unions.  Businesses have threatened to relocate factories if workers vote for a labor union.  Employers, often with the aid of government repressed strikes, jailed, beat, even killed labor organizers and striking workers (Cayo Sexton 1991; Smith 2006; Zeiger 2014).  Indeed, today, as a result of what labor scholar Patricia Cayo Sexton termed “the war on labor,” labor unions have suffered as a result of decades of employer repression and government assistance as well as, changes in the structure of employment, and the deindustrialization of the workforce.  In the 1950s 35% of private sector workers belonged to labor unions.  Today only 11% of workers do (Milkman 2017).  A growing number of states have passed “right to work” laws which are designed to create a workplace without union representation.

In 2018, in Janus v. AFSCME the US Supreme Court decided that public sector unions’ could no longer collect mandated agency fees from the workers they represent.   Agency fees are the dues workers are mandated to pay for the benefits they receive from the collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the union that represents them. As a result of the decision, individual workers can opt out of paying union dues while the union continues to represent and negotiate on their behalf.  And as the International Trade Union Commission’s 2020 Global Index of workers’ rights reports illustrates, the US ranks poorly falling into the category where “the government and/or companies are engaged in serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers, putting fundamental rights under threat” (“The World’s Worst Countries for Workers” 2020).  While it is too early to tell what the impact on unions nationwide will be, in states such as Wisconsin where the policy was enacted in previously, union membership has significantly declined (Wisconsin State Journal 2017; Semuels 2018; Maisano 2018).  Many political and economic analysts attribute the decline in labor unions as a crucial factor in wage stagnation, increased economic inequality, and the decline of the middle class over the last forty years in the US (Farber, et al. 2018; Semuels 2016; Milkman 2013; Greenhouse 2011; Kristof 2015).


The employer and government war on labor unions serves the economic interest of employers by lowering labor costs and thereby increasing corporate profits which contributes to surging economic inequality.  But it is also a war intended to reassert employers’ control over their employees and the workplace by eliminating workers’ collective power they had through their unions and thus reinstituting the unequal and coercive power dynamic between employer and an individual worker who must sell his/her labor to survive.

Over the last few decades due to employers’ anti-unionism and government support along with artificial intelligence (AI) and business’ decisions to outsource jobs to low wage countries, labor unions and workers have seen stagnant wages and increased economic insecurity.  Under these conditions, many labor unions and workers have become less militant.  However, that may be changing.  Over the last several years strike activity has increased.  In 2019, the United Auto Workers (UAW) went on strike for over a month.  In 2018-2019, teachers in West Virginia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Oklahoma, Virginia and elsewhere went on strike for better wages but also for more funding for public schools and better services for students.  These striking workers won some of their demands.   In addition, labor unions were crucial in the successful “fight for $15” movement that won increases in the minimum wage in a number of cities and states in the US (Meyerson 2014; Greenhouse 2018).  While it is too early to tell, the recent strike wave just might be the beginning of a revitalization of the labor movement in the US as a broad-based social movement dedicated to eliminating poverty, reducing economic inequality, and fighting for all working people across the country and around the world.


The African American Civil Rights Movement:  Equality and Freedom

Defining Civil Rights

Another transformative social movement in the US is the civil rights movement.  The civil rights movement of the 1940s-1960s is the classic example of the struggle for equality in the US.  The focus of the civil rights movement was for racial equality and inclusion in America’s social, political and economic life.  Civil rights are premised on the notion of equality.  Civil rights derive from the idea found in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.”  Civil rights are legally grounded in the US Constitution in the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment and in the voting rights amendments.  Civil rights refer to two key aspects of American political and social life. The first pertains to equality in political rights such as the right to vote or the right to run for public office. The second aspect of civil rights refers to the right not be discriminated against because of membership in protected groups such as race, sex/gender, color, religion, ethnicity, and nationality.  Thus, civil rights laws require that governments, businesses, landlords, unions, banks, law enforcement, educational and other institutions not discriminate.  Essentially, civil rights are about the right to be treated equally regardless of one’s race, ethnicity, color, gender/sex, religion, nationality, and disability.

The legal source of civil rights is found in various amendments to the Constitution (see box below) especially the 14th Amendment “equal protection” clause and section 5 that reads, “Congress shall have the power to enforce by appropriate legislation the provision of this article.”  To make “equal protection” practicable requires that government take positive action through the enactment of constitutional amendments, laws, politics and programs, executive orders, court cases establishing and enforcing measures that eliminate discrimination and promote equality.  Civil rights place a legal obligation on government to make and administer laws that bar discrimination and enforce “the equal protection of the laws.”

Key Civil Rights Amendments in the US Constitution

13th Amendment (1865) Abolished Slavery


14th Amendment


Persons born or naturalized in the US are citizens of the US and entitled to Constitutional rights and protections and equal protection of the laws


15th Amendment (1870) Right to vote cannot be denied on the basis of Race


19th Amendment (1920) Right to vote cannot be denied on the basis of Sex


24th Amendment (1964) Abolished the poll-tax (a fee paid in order to vote)


26th Amendment (1971) 18-year old voting age established



Brief History of African American Civil Rights in America

The degree of civil rights protections that exist today is the product of social movement activism.  As is the case with the labor movement and labor activists, the civil rights movement and civil rights activists were confronted with great opposition, resistance, and severe repression.  Civil Rights activists persevered in the face of deadly resistance, they sacrificed themselves and they overcame the opposition.  Civil rights are the product of politics and they are politically contested.  There is nothing historically or politically inevitable about civil rights or equal treatment.  The civil rights of people can be expanded or they can be narrowed.  For instance, following the Civil War (1861-1865) the civil rights of African Americans were expanded with the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.  During the era known as Reconstruction (1865-1877) the federal government enforced these amendments, provided security in the Southern US which allowed African Americans a degree of freedom they never had in the US before.  During Reconstruction some African Americans were able to acquire some property, many had the right to vote and to run for political office.  During this time, blacks were elected to political office and they along with some white lawmakers enacted progressive legislation in the South including establishing public schools (many places in the south did not have public schools until the 1870s).  However, when federal troops were pulled out of the South in 1877, the white business and wealthy landowners (many of who were former slave owners) came back into political power.  The racist reaction to overturn the civil rights gains of the Reconstruction era intensified.  Blacks and poor whites were gradually disenfranchised and a whole host of laws were enacted to repress labor and discriminate against people of color.  In 1896, the US Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson ruled that racial discrimination laws were constitutional and legal.  Following the Plessy decision, states and local governments throughout the US enacted racially discriminatory laws that created and perpetuated African Americans’ second-class citizenship in every facet of life.  The Plessy decision gave Constitutional sanction to de jure segregation, or segregation by law (Jim Crow laws).  Such discriminatory laws also applied to Latinos, Asians and Native Americans.  Effectively, racial apartheid was legal in the US for a century after the abolition of slavery.

But African Americans did not just passively accept second class citizenship and racial apartheid.  They organized and fought for full inclusion into the country’s social, political and economic institutions.  Through the church, student organizations, labor unions, and civil rights organizations African Americans brought legal cases and engaged in disruptive protest activities challenging segregation laws and practices.  Famously, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) legal team led by Thurgood Marshall brought federal lawsuits against laws that enforced racial segregation in public schools.  In Brown v. Board of Education (1954) the Supreme Court agreed with Marshall’s legal arguments and exercised judicial review declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

But African Americans did not just file legal cases to challenge racial discrimination and segregation.  They actively engaged in disruptive protest activities to build the pressure on the white business and political establishment to win their civil rights and equal treatment.  For example, in December 1954, NAACP activist Rosa Parks sat in the while section of a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She refused to give up her seat to a white person and go to the back of the bus to the section for people of color.  She was arrested.  African Americans in the city organized themselves.  They invited a 26-year-old pastor from Atlanta to help lead the effort.  Martin Luther King, Jr. led what came to be known as the Montgomery bus boycott.  For over a year, African Americans engaged in an economic boycott refusing to ride the city’s segregated buses.  After a year of political and economic pressure the federal government forced the city to desegregate the buses allowing anybody, of any race to sit wherever they wanted on the bus.

Then on February 1, 1960, a group of college students in Greensboro, North Carolina began the sit-in movement (occupations) to desegregate lunch counters in the city.  For several days the occupations, harassment by white customers, and arrests of activists continued.  The sit-in activists were unfazed and continued their protest.  Inspired by the activists’ in Greensboro the sit in movement spread throughout the South resulting in desegregated lunch counters throughout the region.  The activists in Greensboro and elsewhere created enough pressure on the local business community and on local government officials that the businesses agreed to desegregate the lunch counters in the city.

In 1963, King led a series of demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama (the nation’s most segregated city at the time) in an effort to change the segregation laws there.  There was massive resistance from the business community, whites in general, and local and state government officials.  King, among others were jailed.  In one protest during that time young people left their schools and peacefully protested for the end of racial segregation.  The protesting students were met with police dogs and fire hoses.  The images were broadcast throughout the nation and the world.  The violent repression of peaceful protesters shocked and outraged the nation and caused significant international embarrassment for the US.  The protests in Birmingham and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom later in the summer had the effect of pressuring the federal government to respond to the situation.  Following the march, President John F. Kennedy asked Congress to craft and enact a civil rights act.  Following Kennedy’s assassination his Vice-President, Lyndon Baines Johnson pushed the act through Congress.  The Civil Rights Act (1964) was a landmark piece of legislation. It made discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, nationality, religion and sex illegal in education, employment and public places.  The Civil Rights Act not only overturned Jim Crow laws throughout the country, thus eliminating racially segregated parks, water fountains, buses, etc.  Significantly, the act also made racial discrimination by private actors such as businesses and employers illegal.  As a result of this act, and its enforcement, businesses and employers could no longer deny service on the basis on a person’s race.  Nor could employers refuse to hire or promote a person because of race.

In addition to fighting for equal treatment in education, public places and employment college students, local community members and civil rights activists expended great effort to gain political equality.  They risked their lives to gain something so basic to democracy as the right to register African Americans in the South to vote.  Their efforts were met with intense resistance from white vigilante groups, law enforcement and government officials in the South.  The white elites who controlled Southern politics did not want blacks to get the right to vote.  They would kill to prevent blacks from registering.  Despite the 15th Amendment adopted in 1870 which made it illegal to deny a person the right to vote on the basis of their race, African Americans and Latinos in the South were denied the right to register to vote.  Southern, white segregationist officials used a variety of measures that disenfranchised people of color (and in many cases poor whites).  Such measures included poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and the white primary.  Each of these measures were on their face race-neutral, but they were applied in very racially discriminatory ways.  The effect of these measures was that in the state of Mississippi a mere 7% of voter eligible African Americans were registered.  Effectively, African Americans were disenfranchised and had no voice in making the laws that they had to live under.  In the mid-1960s civil rights activists went to the South to encourage blacks to register and to vote.  They were met with fierce resistance by the white economic and political elite along with law enforcement and vigilante groups.  In 1964 three young men working to register blacks to vote were killed in Mississippi.  In 1965, in Selma, Alabama on behalf of voting rights was initially violently repressed by Alabama law enforcement.  The violent repression once again shocked and outraged the nation.  A couple days after the initial march a second march too place.  This time the march was joined by labor unions, church groups, anti-war activists, and other civil rights groups and as a result was much bigger than the first one.  The march from Selma to Montgomery moved the conscience of the nation and convinced President Johnson to press Congress to enact a law to protect voting rights.  The 1965 Voting Rights Act was another high point of the African American civil rights movement.  The Voting Rights Act provisions prohibited racial discrimination in voting.  It led to strong and effective federal enforcement of voting laws that guaranteed no one would be denied their right to vote because of their race or ethnicity.  Because of the Voting Rights Act voting rates of African Americans and Latinos increased significantly throughout the South.  As a result, today African Americans voter turn-out rates are similar to those of whites.  In some elections, African Americans turnout rates are even higher than whites.

While the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and the Voting Rights Act are milestones, we should not forget that these legal and legislative achievement were the result of decades long struggle.  Political and legal rights mitigated the terror that people of color endured.  Social movement activism, including lawsuits, boycotts, sit-ins, marches and voter registration efforts created the framework for challenging the law in the courts and pressured elected officials to enact legislation that would enforce equality under the law. Thus, political and legal equality (the right to participate in politics and non-discrimination) is the product of social movement activism which illustrates the power of practicing democracy as a way of life.  In over five decades since the enactment of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts there have been significant advancements toward racial inclusiveness and equality.  African Americans vote at rates comparable to whites, thousands of black elected officials have held office, and racial discrimination in employment, education, and in public places is illegal, and where it does occur, for the most part, legally condemned and penalized.  However, in 2020, the US falls far short of the promise of racial equality, even on basic civil rights measures such as equal right to life.  The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted people of all racial groups.  But, it has disproportionately infected and killed black and Latinx people as they are more likely to be essential workers, low-wage workers without employer provided health insurance, have preexisting conditions owning to low incomes, and lack health coverage for lack of universal health care in the US.  Furthermore, the frequent deaths of immigrants held in detention centers and the recurring murders of African Americans including Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd which sparked days of massive nationwide protests are visceral illustrations of the devaluation of black lives and colossal failures of public policy over the last fifty years.

The Civil Rights Movement and the Meaning of Freedom:  Economic Rights

Winning political rights and equal protection under the law were important achievements of the civil rights movement.  But these were not the only goals of movement activists and leaders.  King, Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, and other activists also demanded greater economic equality.  Through generations of slavery (that consisted of among other things unpaid labor) and Jim Crow discrimination (in employment, housing, education, public life) blacks’ economic opportunities were limited to the lowest paying and most insecure jobs.  Post-slavery, African Americans were often the last ones to be hired, the first ones to be fired, and made to work for the lowest of wages.   As a result, African Americans experienced disproportionately high levels of poverty, income insecurity, and debt.  Under these conditions many blacks were forced to live in poor housing, attend crumbling schools, and live in neighborhoods with inadequate public services (Wacquant 2002; Coates 2014).  Even after the end of de jure segregation, African Americans continued to be segregated as a fact due to their economic condition.  De facto segregation is segregation that is not the result of racially discriminatory laws or actions by government, but because of “choices” people make that result in racial segregation.  In light of these conditions, civil rights activists advocated for improvements in the socio-economic conditions of African Americans and that would make equality of opportunity and full inclusion in a democratic society possible.

Civil rights activists conceived of equality as more than just equality under the law.  They understood the meaning of equality and freedom as having social and economic aspects to it as well. Typically, when people think of freedom, they often think of the meaning of freedom they think of it in its negative sense.  Negative freedom means non-interference (Berlin 1990).  A person is free when they are not interfered with or denied something they want to do.  For example, the Civil Rights Act (1964) states there should be no laws that interfere with, or discriminate against someone based on their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  Laws that protect people from discrimination so that they are free to choose to do something such as going to school, obtaining a job, shopping at a particular store, or buying a home are examples of negative freedomSimilarly, the 13th Amendment is a classic example of negative freedom and shows the limits of freedom conceived purely in its negative sense.  The 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the US freeing slaves from the bondage of their slave owners.  However, after the abolition of slavery many former slaves, undereducated, semi-skilled, and lacking the finances, income, property, or wealth to move stayed on their former slaveowners’ land and continued to work in near slave-like conditions.  The end of slavery created a share cropper economy in the South forcing many former slaves into a life of debt peonage (DuBois 1935; Foner 1988).  Why didn’t these former slaves leave the plantations of their former slave owners?   No law was forcing them to stay.  The 13th Amendment is a clear example of both the importance of negative freedom and its shortcoming.  What often prevents someone from doing something might not be a legal barrier.  Instead, they may lack the “means” or resources to exercise the freedom to pursue a goal they deem to be worthwhile.  Many former slaves stayed because they lacked positive freedom, or having the means or the resources to exercise one’s freedom.  They lacked the money, property, income and economic resources enabling them to leave the plantation and start a new life (former slaves were not compensated for their life-time of unpaid labor as slaves).  Thus, the 13th Amendment might have freed slaves, granting negative freedom.  But the lives of former slaves were still severely constrained by the absence of positive freedom.  Thus, even with the abolition of slavery African Americas still lacked full control and individual self-determination to decide what they chose to do with their lives.

Post-slavery, the Jim Crow era (1870-1965) condemned the vast majority of blacks to few opportunities, low wages, segregated housing, and poor education.  The 1964 Civil Rights Act made de jure segregation and discrimination illegal.  But the centuries of slavery and decades of Jim Crow put blacks at a competitive disadvantage.  Without the resources to act on their freedom the elimination of racial segregation and discrimination did not make the opportunity to compete for jobs and places in educational institutions fair and equal.  President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized the half freedom African Americans had, even after the Civil Rights Act.  In a speech at Howard University in 1965 Johnson declared:

Freedom is not enough.  You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.  You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, “you are free to compete with all the others,” and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.  Thus, it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity.  All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.  This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights.  We seek not just freedom but opportunity.  We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result (Johnson 1965).

To give substance to the notion of equality of opportunity, rather than it being an empty phrase Johnson understood that African Americans would have to be provided positive freedom, the resources and opportunities allowing them the means to act on their freedom. These resources included government investments in housing, education, employment, job retraining, and poverty reduction programs which would provide people with the positive ability to seize the opportunities that freedom offers.  While President Johnson did enact many new programs and expanded others in what came to be known as the War on Poverty, his decision to escalate the war in Vietnam soon undermined his ambitious domestic agenda.  As a result of anti-poverty programs enacted in the 1960s, poverty rates in the US did decline during his administration.

Today, while there are no laws that prevent a person who is poor, or of color, from becoming a doctor, accountant, lawyer, teacher or a business owner there may still be an absence of positive freedom in America.  To become a doctor or a pharmacist, at the very least, requires an excellent education, the ability to pay for school, certificate programs or tutors as well as good health and a safe community in which to grow up (Leonhardt 2017).  These are the resources one needs in order to focus one’s ability toward realizing their aspirations (Marshall 1992).  People in poor communities, who might live in an unstable home due to parents’ unemployment or insufficient wages, experience homelessness, navigate dangerous neighborhoods, attend underperforming schools, struggle with poor health and nutrition, and with contend with being targeted and frequently harassed by law enforcement encounter more obstacles than those who may have similar aspirations, but do not have the same experiences and do not contend with the same social conditions.  Equality of opportunity creates greater freedom, but people still need the means or resources to be free in order to act on and realize their individual potential.  Positive freedom requires social goods such as quality schools, safe neighborhoods, accessible and affordable healthcare and nutrition programs, quality daycare, pollution-free environments and workplaces, and employment with decent wages and benefits. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights (discussed in chapter 1) was a tangible example of a proposal to expand opportunity and provide positive freedom by government.

Pressuring government to provide substantial support in the form of jobs, income assistance, housing and healthcare in order to guarantee opportunity in America became central tenets of the civil rights movement post-Civil and Voting Rights Acts (1964 and 1965, respectively).  Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaigns in the last two years of his life, the Chicago Fair Housing Campaign and the Poor People’s Campaign were efforts to eradicate poverty in the US (Freeman and Kolozi 2018).  Furthermore, as King understood the relationship between negative and positive freedom he became a tireless advocate on behalf of the poor and working people of all races.  In fact, on April 4, 1968, the day King was assassinated, he was in Memphis, Tennessee in support of striking sanitation workers (Honey 2011).   King’s decision to join the striking workers in Memphis was a result of his realization that in order to make freedom and equality tangible realities the conditions of a free society have to include decent housing, jobs at living wages, quality education, guaranteed employment or income, and comprehensive social welfare programs.  As King wrote:

Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality.  For we know now that its isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters.  What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger or a cup of coffee?  What does it profit a man to be able to eat at the swankiest integrated restaurant when he doesn’t earn enough money to take his wife out to dine?  What does it profit one to have access to the hotels of our city and the motels of our highway when we don’t earn enough money to take our family on a vacation?  What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school when he doesn’t earn enough money to buy his children school clothes? (King 2015)

Thus, to make equality real, King and others saw that it would require an active role by government through investments in schools, job creation, infrastructure, health care and housing.  Without these investments by the federal government, the promise of equality and individual freedom was incomplete.  So far “The practical cost of change for the nation up to this point has been cheap,” wrote King in 1967:


The limited reforms have been obtained at bargain rates.  There are no expenses, and no taxes are required, for Negroes to share lunch counters, libraries, parks, hotels and other facilities with whites.  Even more significant changes involved in voter registration required neither large monetary nor psychological sacrifice.  The real cost lies ahead…The discount education given Negroes will in the future have to be purchased at full price if quality education is to be realized.  Jobs are harder and costlier to create than voting rolls.  The eradication of slums housing millions is complex far beyond integrating buses and lunch counters (King 2010).

For King, economic rights were essential for substantive equality and freedom.  Other civil rights groups echoed King’s belief in positive freedom through governmental support for a reasonable standard of living.  These demands may be found in the 10 Point Program of the Black Panthers, the 13 Point Program of the Young Lords (a US based Puerto Rican nationalist group), in the speeches of Caesar Chavez, in the Black Lives Matter platform, in Rev. William Barber’s revival of the Poor People’s Campaign in 2018, and in Bernie Sanders’ 2020 Presidential Campaign Platform (Foner 1995; “13 Point Program”; Araiza 2009; Chavez 2008; “A Vision..”; “Poor People’s Campaign: National Call for Moral Revival”).

Democracy, freedom, and equality require that the nation and its political discourse go beyond a narrow understanding of the goals of the civil rights movement as simply gaining the right to vote and non-discrimination.  Democracy and justice require a society organized around human rights which include both negative and positive freedoms.   Civil liberties, civil rights and equal opportunity are significant negative freedoms.  Economic rights such as the right to a job, education, decent housing, and health care or greater equality of conditions are significant positive freedoms. These civil and economic rights require a substantive role by government in economic life to tax and to redistribute income/wealth toward social goods that address poverty, income insecurity, and economic inequality (Madrick 2014, 2015).  From the perspective of these activists, civil rights and economic rights are linked. A society that is unwilling to address both racial and class oppression as obstacles to genuine freedom and equality of opportunity is a society that needs to reconsider what democracy for all means. Democracy might mean more than having the right to vote, the freedom of movement, free and open elections, and the rule of law.  If democracy means the people have power and that their voices have impact on how government functions, it is important to consider whether poverty and economic inequality reduce the meaning of democracy as well.  The civil rights movement, as well as many other social movements including the labor and the women’s right’s movements have asked that Americans rethink what constitutes a democratic society.


Women’s Rights Movement: Equality and Freedom

Both the labor and the civil rights movements have transformed America.  The Women’s Movement must be placed in the same category as these other transformative movements.  Core features of American life that, today, we take for granted including women’s right to vote and run for elective office; to serve on juries; be employed as police officers, construction workers, lawyers, scientists, and leaders in business and government; or that women are free to choose and have access to family planning services including birth control and abortion are the products of nearly two centuries of social and political activism by women and their male allies.  The struggle for women’s political rights, social and personal freedoms, as well as access and rights in the workplace were met with opposition and resistance.  Like other movements for equality and freedom, although significant issues remain, the women’s movement has achieved remarkable successes.

In 1776, Abigail Adams wrote in a letter to her politically powerful husband, John Adams, to consider the rights of women during the American Revolution.  Abigail Adams wrote:

And by the way, in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar [sic] care and attention is not paid to the Laidies [sic] we are determined to foment a Rebelion [sic], and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation (Adams 1776).


Despite such pleas, John Adams and the other male founders failed to “remember the ladies”.  Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were silent on the rights of women.  Women did not have the right to vote, were legally barred from many occupations, restricted from owning property, and were legally subjected to the authority of male members of their households.

Through membership in labor unions, civil rights organization, and women’s rights organizations women challenged their social, cultural, political and economic second-class citizenship.  They challenged not only economic and political discrimination they suffered, but also profoundly challenged American’s sexist stereotypes that kept women from equality of opportunity.  Among those stereotypes and social and legal practices were those following from the social expectations imposed on women by a culture of traditional gender roles.  Feminists in the 1960s argued that feminism was “the radical notion that women are people.”  This meant that as people endowed with natural rights women should be free to choose how they want to live their lives.  It meant that a woman has the right to freely choose for herself whether she wants to have children or not.  It meant that a woman has the right to freely choose for herself whether to pursue a career and to pursue any career she wants.  Fundamentally, the women’s rights movement was about equal treatment among genders (while acknowledging gender difference) and for women to have control over her life.  Over the course of nearly 200 years of activism for women’s rights the overarching goal was to free women from the social, cultural, political and economic constraints on the full development of a women’s human potential.

Women’s Struggle for Political Rights

Despite their second-class status many women organized to win political, legal, and social equality for themselves as well as others.   In 1848, women organized the Seneca Falls Convention and committed themselves to ending discrimination against women, winning the right to vote, and abolishing slavery.   A “Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances” was drafted borrowing the language of the Declaration of Independence stating, “we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…” (Declaration of Sentiments” 1848).  The document continued by listing injustices inflicted upon women in the US and calling upon women to organize, petition, and fight for their rights.  In attendance at the convention was Frederick Douglass the abolitionist.  Among the most active abolitionists (of slavery) were women including Harriet Tubman, Sojournor Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, and many others (Davis 1883).  These women fused the struggle for the rights of women with the crusade to abolish slavery.  Following the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 (outlawing slavery) and the 15th Amendment in 1870 (outlawing disenfranchisement on the basis of race) women expected that their contributions to the abolitionist cause be recognized and they too be granted the right to vote.  Still, opposition to women’s right to vote persisted at the federal level for decades.  Despite enormous resistance by men including in government, business, in the family, as well as opposition among some women, suffragettes or women advocating for the right to vote persisted in their demands.  Suffragettes petitioned, marched, engaged in civil disobedience, picketed, and went on hunger strikes.  They engaged in massive demonstrations across the country, including in Washington DC in 1913 which was the largest political demonstration in the city’s history up to that time.  In 1917, 20,000 suffragettes marched down 5th Avenue.  They organized the first ever picket of the White House in which suffragettes would stand in front of the president’s residence every day for over two years, January 1917 to June 1919 demanding he support women’s right to vote.

Their activism pressured government officials to change election laws, first at the state levels and then at the federal level enfranchising women.  Their efforts would gradually change public opinion.  In 1890, Wyoming became the first state to grant women the right to vote.  Other western states including Utah, Colorado, Washington, California soon followed.  Then Illinois (1913), Montana (1914), New York (1917), and Michigan (1918).  The first woman elected to the US House of Representatives was Jeannette Rankin of Montana elected in 1916.  By the time the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1920 granting women the right to vote throughout the US, women were already enfranchised in 19 states.  In 2020, on the 100th year anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Senator Kamala Harris (CA) was elected as the country’s first female Vice-President of the United States.  And while elected officials at all levels of government are still disproportionately male, the number of women in elected office and public service has increased significantly.  Women serve as governors of states, representatives and Senators in Congress, and in cabinet positions including Secretary of State.

Women’s Struggle to Control Her Own Body

The right to vote and to serve in public office are important gains for women’s rights.  But those achievements alone do not provide for freedom and equality between the sexes. For decades, activists such as, Margaret Sanger, and others campaigned and agitated for family planning and the legalization of birth control as fundamental for a woman’s freedom.  In the early 1900s, birth control of any kind was illegal in much of the United States.  Because of these laws, women did not have a choice over their reproductive lives and effectively had to endure forced pregnancy.  In 1916, Sanger, in an act of civil disobedience defied New York State’s anti-contraception law and opened a women’s health clinic and advised women about birth control.  She was arrested, tried and convicted and sentenced for the offense.  She continued the struggle and appealed her case in the federal courts.  Two years later a federal court ruled in Sanger’s favor, allowing New York doctors to advise married couples about birth control for health purposes.  Sanger went on to found the Birth Control Council of America which later became Planned Parenthood of America.  Planned Parenthood is an important non-profit organization that provides men and women reproductive health care and family planning services including STD treatments, contraceptives, and abortion services.  Sanger’s act of civil disobedience and organizing resulted in incremental, but significant, change in reproductive rights laws.

Then in a series of cases in the 1960s and 1970s a woman’s right to decide over here reproductive health was further expanded.  In 1965 in Griswold v. Connecticut and in 1972 in Eisenstadt v. Baird, the US Supreme Court overturned state laws barring married and unmarried persons from using contraceptives.  Access to birth control is fundamentally about a woman’s right to decide what she wants to do with her body, if and when she wants to have children, and to otherwise plan her family and professional life.  Access to safe and affordable reproductive health care is part of a woman’s right to self-determination.  Protecting the legal rights of women was and continues to be a major issue for Planned Parenthood of America and the largest women’s organization in the US, the National Organization of Women (NOW).  Until 1973, abortion was illegal in 30 states in the US.  In that year, the US Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade to legalize abortion, but allowed states to impose certain restrictions, in particular in the second and third trimesters of a pregnancy.  Since the Roe decision, while abortion remains nominally legal throughout the US, states and the federal government have enacted a number of restrictions on women’s reproductive rights including barring public funding of abortion, defunding Planned Parenthood, and other onerous requirements making access to reproductive health services more difficult, especially for low income and working-class women (Kliff 2017).

Women’s Struggle for Access to and Equal Treatment in Employment

In addition to political rights and the right to decide what she wants to do with her body, another arena of American life where women’s activism has transformed the laws and the culture is in employment.  Women’s struggle for access and equality in employment centered on several broad issues including non-discrimination and equal opportunity.  To give these principles substance women have advocated and pressure to reform labor laws barring employment discrimination and unequal pay on the basis of sex/gender.  Additionally, women have pressured to expand the welfare state to accommodate for the realities women face in balancing work life with family and child care.  To this end, women have advocated for universal daycare programs and paid maternity leave regulations (Deslippe 2000; Butler 2002; Eisenstein 2009).

Until the 1970s the dominant cultural thinking about men and women’s employment prioritized the “male breadwinner model”.  This was the belief that the male in the household earned a “living wage” which was enough to afford his family a decent existence. Under this model, women were expected to say home and raise the children or if they went to work their income was meant to supplement the income of the male in the household.  As such, this gender bias was used to justify excluding women from certain professions and allowing employers to pay women less than a man for the same type of work.  It was common for women to be segregated into low wage jobs that were considered to be “women’s work”.  Laws, company and union practices banned women from doing work that men do and vice versa.  In job postings employers could specify a gender requirement for the prospective employee.  These socially constructed designations of “men’s work’ and “women’s work” were not historically justified.  Whereas prior to the 1940s it was against company policy and culturally unconscionable for a woman to work on an assembly-line making cars or airplanes, during World War II millions of women entered factories to work heavy machinery to build and assemble the vehicles, planes, warships, and other weapons of war.  The famous “Rosie the Riveter” marketing campaign celebrated the heroic, capable and confident women working in the American war industries (Fox 2018).

When the war was over and the men fighting overseas returned, women were fired from their jobs and told to return to the home.  If they were not fired, working class women were more often than not demoted and shifted back to ‘women’s work’ as the men returned from the war.  However, the World War II experience of working in formerly ‘men’s jobs’ motivated women to demand greater employment opportunity, equality, and advancement in employment and economic life.  Women workers demanded that unions, employers and government end gender-based pay inequity.  Through tireless advocacy and lobbying women through their labor unions pressured Congress to enact the Equal Pay Act (1963) that barred employers from setting different wage rates on the basis of gender for the same job (Hallock 1993).  The Equal Pay Act was one of the first federal laws curtailing sex discrimination in employment and it resulted in wage increases for millions of women.  It was a significant step in the direction toward reducing the gendered wage gap.  However, the legislation did not did not address the different wage structures for different types of work that were considered to be either “men’s work” or “women’s work”.  Jobs and careers considered “men’s work” often payed much more than “women’s work”.

Women’s rights activists fought for equal pay, but also against sexist stereotyping in employment and in the culture.  Even in occupations filled by women such as teaching, clerical work, and airline attendants discrimination in the workplace was common.  Women could be terminated from their job if they became pregnant or if they married.  In 1964 the federal government enacted the Civil Rights Act, Title VII, barring gender discrimination in employment and education.  In 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Executive Order 11246 that prohibited sex discrimination in government contracts and required affirmative action plans to include women.  Despite the laws, the federal government did not enforce the sex discrimination of the Act.  It was not until women’s groups such as the National Organization of Women (NOW) exerted pressure on elected officials and civil rights enforcement officials that the federal government began to take enforcement of the sex discrimination provisions of the act seriously.  The enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act opened many new professional doors to women that had previously been denied them including careers in law enforcement and fire-fighting (Smith 2015).

In addition to efforts to end gender discrimination in the workplace the women’s movement fought for many additional reforms beyond “equal pay for equal work.” Still, other forms of gender equality in the workplace remain unfulfilled.  In particular, as labor historian Dorothy Sue Cobble writes, labor feminists advocated for “equal pay for comparable work, a family or a living wage for women and men, the revaluing of skills in ‘women’s jobs,’ economic security and shorter hours, paid maternity leave, social supports from the state and from employers for child-bearing and child-rearing” (Cobble 2004, 6). Comparable worth, the idea that women should be paid the same wage as men for comparable employment continues to be a pressing issue for the women’s movement.  Employment segregation by gender, placing women in certain types of jobs and men in other types of jobs, continues.  As a result, women are often paid significantly less than men for similar types of work based on skill, knowledge, and responsibility in the workplace (“Pay Equity and Discrimination”).  In 2015, women earned 83% of what men earned for comparable work.  Based on this it would take an extra 44 days of work for women to earn what a man does in a calendar year (Brown 2017).

Despite the significant progress in gender relations that have been made over the last 100 years, significant obstacles remain to the equality of opportunity and freedom of women (and men) to reach their full human potential.  While non-discrimination laws have been enforced providing greater access for women in the workplace and careers, many women and men continue to struggle balancing work and family life.  A major reason is that due to the minimal social welfare support offered by government.  In 1962, because of the tireless activism through their labor unions working class women managed to pressure Congress to introduce the Day Care Assistance Act.  The act promised to establish a universal day care system that would allow women with young children to work and be mothers.  After much resistance by business and conservative groups the bill’s initial universal benefit was eliminated.  Funding was drastically reduced and the program became means tested permitting access only to low-income women (Cobble 2004, 131-139, 162).  As a result, childcare services are one of the largest expenses for working women and families (Glynn 2013; “Work and Family” 2018).  Many women are forced to put their careers on hold and stay home with young children because of the huge expense of day care.  Her inability to go to work reduces the family income and stifles her career opportunities for advancement reducing her overall life-time income.

Another welfare state measure lacking in the US that negatively impacts women’s (and men’s) opportunities is paid family leave.  Paid family leave does not exist as a federal right in the US.  Among forty-one developed nations the US is the outlier when it comes to family leave, providing no weeks of paid family leave to care for a newborn or sick family member (Livingston 2016).  Some businesses in the US offer paid family leave to their employees without being required to do so.  And several states including California, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have enacted such laws (Huang 2018).  However, because many families are without the benefit, families, and most often women, must make the difficult choice to either stay home with a newborn child and forgo being paid to provide for that newborn child.  Or she must find and often pay for care for the newborn while she goes to work to try to provide for her family.  As other countries with paid family leave laws illustrate families with newborn babies need not make these difficult choices that many women (and families) are forced to make in the US.

Comparative Box: Gender Inclusiveness

•         Women in Politics:  While women make up 51% of the US population they currently make up 25% of members in the 116th US Congress (2019-2020).  The US ranks 78th out of 193 nations surveyed by the United Nations (“Women in Politics” 2019).  In Mexico, South Africa, Iceland, and Sweden the gender population distribution is similar to the US, while in each of these countries there is over 40% female representation in their national legislatures.


•         Paid Maternity/Family Leave.  Of all OECD countries the US is the only one that does not legally require employers to provide for paid maternity/family leave to their workers.  In other OECD countries paid maternity leave varies between 7 to 23 weeks (“Parental Leave,” 2017).



Social Movements and Democracy as a Way of Life

The transformation of American society attributable to the labor rights, civil rights, and women’s rights movements are the outcome of struggle.  Each of these movements have made significant, social, political, and economic improvements in the lives of all Americans.  In order for progress to take place, from the Boston Tea Party to the enactment of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, the New Deal establishing right to form unions and collective bargaining, the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, and the protection for women’s reproductive rights have all come from social movements. But political and social change does not come quickly in American political life.  Many of these movements took decades, and longer, to achieve national attention and create political change.  They adopted many different strategies and tactics including working through the courts, the electoral arena, protest, disruption, and civil disobedience.  As a way to build collective strength and solidarity with the plight of others each of these movements forged alliances with other groups to further their cause.  Each of these social movements consisted of individuals who refused to accept being told there was nothing to be done in the face of injustice.  Courageous individuals were determined to make sure their voice was heard and government be responsive to their demands.  By great commitment, sacrifice, and political courage they confronted the power of the status quo.  Their efforts were marked by setbacks and successes.  In 1962, James Meredith, a political science major, was admitted to the University of Mississippi.  Upon finding out that he was African American the university revoked his acceptance.  A federal court ordered the university to admit Meredith.  As the semester began crowds of white segregationists rioted and blocked his ability to attend the school.  Clearly, he was not wanted because of his race.  But Meredith was undeterred.  How would not let racist obstruction keep him from the opportunity to get an education.  Determined to attend the school and earn his degree Meredith attended and continued to do so for the rest of the school year. He became the first black student to graduate from the University of Mississippi in its history.  Inspired by Meredith’s political courage, Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence (King “Letter” 1963).

It is such political courage demonstrated by Meredith, Rosa Parks, Margaret Sanger and many other civil rights, women’s rights, and labor rights activists that is the cornerstone of the relationship between the political imagination, democracy as a way of life, and the socially transformative potential of social movements.



  1. What are the strategic goals of social movements? Identify a contemporary social movement and describe its protest actions.  Do you think the movement’s protest actions align with the broad strategic goals of movements discussed above?


  1. Why do you think that it takes time for social movements to accomplish the changes they seek? What are some factors that explain the success or failure of social movements?


  1. Is a social movement that does not achieve its policy goals a success or failure? Explain.


  1. What are labor unions? How has the labor movement transformed US society?


  1. There were several goals of the civil rights movement. Identify and explain those goals.


  1. Explain the relationship between positive and negative freedom?


  1. Identify, describe and evaluate the achievements of the women’s rights movement in light of the challenges confronting women in the US today.


  1. James Meredith is an example of blending political courage with the idea of embracing “democracy as a way of life.” Research another example, nationally or internationally, of someone who struggled to expand freedom and equality.


[1] For an alternative to capitalist workplace relations see, Richard Wolff, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012).  An alternative to capitalist workplace organization and relations are worker owned cooperatives.  The largest in the world is Mondragon in Spain.  It employs over 80,000 workers, see Gar Alperovitz and Thomas Hanna, “Mondragon and the System Problem,” Truth-out (November 1, 2013),; The largest in the US is Cooperative Home Care Associates which employs over 2000 people in the Bronx, NY.  See, Laura Flanders, “How America’s Largest Worker Owned Co-op Lifts People Out of Poverty,” Yes! Magazine (August 14, 2014),

[2] Public sector federal workers were granted collective bargaining rights in 1962 by John F. Kennedy under Executive Order 10988.


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