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WILLIAMS, Dana. Anarchists and Labor Unions: Applying New Social Movement Theory to the Characteristics of Contemporary Anarchists. -3- Discussion and Conclusion. References. Appendix
University of Akron
Article published on 18 April 2005
last modification on 27 April 2015

by r-c.
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Introduction & Literature review

Summary & Hypotheses. Data and Methods

Discussion and Conclusions

Union membership of Infoshop respondents in the US (16.4 percent) was marginally higher than in the general population. This unionization level is half that of respondents from Europe (35.3 percent). NSM applies to developed Western nations generally, and thus the higher European membership rate should be included when considering anarchism and NSMs. This suggests that other regions may deviate from the NSM framework more clearly than North Americans. However, since this paper centered upon North America I focused on anarchists in that region, whom were only slightly more likely to be in a labor union than their mainstream fellow citizens. The percentage of union members may be noticeably larger if the Don’t Want Work respondents are removed from the analysis, as non-workers are removed from Census Bureau analysis of union membership (BLS 2004).

Both the bivariate and multivariate findings support H1, that one’s political ideology—particularly the emphasis upon economics—influence membership in unions. If an individual is concerned enough to identify specifically as anarcho-syndicalist or anarcho-communist, as opposed to just an anarchist, this commitment seems to translate into carrying out that “class struggle” ideology into action. The regression coefficient increased as the control variables were inserted, becoming a stronger relationship.

The working class appeared more often in this study (one-third of respondents) than one would expect from a movement dominated by middle class interests. Although working class is significantly related to union membership, when evaluated by multivariate analysis, its importance diminishes. Consequently, the impact of other independent variables lessen the impact that working class has for predicting union membership. This weakens the conclusion related to H2.

In addressing H3, work appears to play a role in influencing union membership. Those who “don’t want work”, although negatively predictive of union membership, constitute a very small percentage of the overall sample (5.5 percent of respondents) and consequently the coefficient has a large standard error (1.027). Still, the overall result is as expected—those with Don’t Want Work attitudes and behaviors would not be part of unions. This attitude is clearly not very pervasive in the movement, although the Infoshop survey did not directly ask respondents if they shared an affinity for it.

The Don’t Want Work attitude and CrimethInc perspective has a distinct lifestyle behind it, one that is not conducive to organizing, participation in, or even basic sympathy with unions. These people provide a strong case against H5—which predicts that anarchists do not fit the NSM framework—by showing that they are unlikely to belong to unions.

Older anarchists have a higher likelihood of union membership than younger anarchists. On the surface, this would suggest support for H4. The sample includes respondents who are minors and may be one explanatory factor. This finding may also be partially explained by the need for security that increases with age. The need for security tends to lead people to find stable work, which can often be found within labor unions. Finally, since the standard deviation of respondents to age is roughly 8 years (above or below 24), the survey is not really multi-generational.

The only significant control variable from Model 3 is North Americans, who tend toward non-membership in unions. Since three-fifths of the non-North Americans are Europeans, this suggests varying attitudes across the Atlantic Ocean. The other controls—Whites, males, heterosexuals, and the non-religious—are not significant, nor are they correlated with membership.

This paper has begun the task of creating quantitative research looking at North American anarchists. It has sought to address the assumptions of anarchists as participants in a middle-class movement, as is the case with NSMs generally. The regression model generated successfully addressed the first four hypotheses, with the exception of H2.

It is clear that when anarchists identify specifically with an economic ideology they are more likely to belong to labor unions. What’s not clear is that these anarchists come from the working class (at least at a multivariate level). The working class is very present within the anarchist movement. But this background does not predict union membership within the full regression model, despite being significantly correlated. The countervailing trend—although far less common amongst anarchists—is the influence of the CrimethInc work ideology in which anarchists are far less likely to be in unions. Older anarchists are more likely to belong to unions, yet this point should be viewed as inconclusive due to the small range of age in the Infoshop dataset. North Americans tend not to belong to unions compared to others throughout the world.

In addressing H5, it is unclear if anarchists may be placed within the NSM framework or not. If the results for H2 were more conclusive, it would be easier to do so. Generally, the results suggest that anarchists are not apart of NSMs, for the simple fact that of high working class response to the Infoshop survey, while NSM asserts that movements are primarily composed of elements of the middle class. Yet, the non-significant tendency for the working class to participate in unions (the best counter-example to NSM in this study) makes this point unclear.

It should be noted that although this research has tested the characteristics of anarchists who do or do not belong to labor unions, this does not suggest anything beyond that. Active participation, organizing, or activism is unknown for these individuals. Since NSM theory suggests that traditional movements were active labor and class-based movements, it is not possible to claim that simple membership to a union constitutes a labor movement.

While it is generally clear that the focus and composition of anarchists themselves have changed from earlier generations, it is less clear how the anarchist movement itself has changed. Anarchists appear to be embracing a broader philosophy and issue-focus than in the past. Does this suggest that anarchists belong to NSMs? Or, if the picture is less clear, does it merely support part of the NSM theory, yet not others?

The values of NSMs are very anarchistic; values such as autonomy, self-determination, and decentralization are professed as core values in anarchist literature. Bagguley (1992) notes that these are not necessarily new tendencies, which is true for the anarchist movement; classic anarchist theorists (like Proudhon and Bakunin) wrote about these values well before sociology itself became a discipline. Yet, this paper did not test anarchist values and attitudes, so a comparison based upon these criteria is not possible. It is difficult to answer these large questions with just one survey, especially a limited one.

Future research should consider the philosophical and real support of unions as part of anarchist ideology, not just that which is economic in focus. It may be that “anarchists without adjective” are equally likely to participate in unions as their economic-focused counterparts, yet this is impossible to tell from the Infoshop survey results. Questions that expand on simple union membership, such as activity within a union or union-organizing itself, would be useful.

Unions are not the only working class or economic-focused organizations that exist, but they are the most prevalent and prominent. Future research should look for other organizations that derive from the working class or focus on economic issues. Anarchist participation in such organizations may be different than membership in labor unions. This would strengthen the confidence that other possible structures of traditional movements are being studied, not just unions.

Using a different measure for class, such as annual income, may provide a different result than the question used by the Infoshop survey, which asked respondents to determine their own class background—anarchists may have ideologically aligned themselves with the working class, regardless of the economic background of their parents. The ability to separate certain sectors of the middle-class—service sector workers, non-profit workers, students, and retirees—would aid in testing who in the middle class is supportive of the anarchist movement according to NSM. Asking for educational status would facilitate analysis of the “traditional intellectual” position of the middle class in NSM theory. Finally, efforts to seek out anarchists of older generations to test the impact of age upon union membership would help provide a richer context.

More importantly, future research may wish to seek a better way to explore the ideology versus identity question proposed by NSM. One possible way is to evaluate anarchist beliefs in NSM values, tactics, and focus. In doing so, it would be possible to apply these elements to the RSMO theory discussed earlier, allowing a contrast between the two frameworks.

Finally, differentiating between anarchists and participants in an anarchist movement and being able study them, their actions, and their beliefs over time will be the key in being able to analyze the anarchist movement itself, as opposed to merely the characteristics of individual anarchists. This will help deal with the question of causality with who is part of a union, and if that membership is possibly a deliberate choice and not just a requirement for their job.

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APPENDIX
Presented at the Midwest Sociological Society (Minneapolis, MN), April 1, 2005

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