Building Justice in the American Labor Movement

  • Biko Koenig
  • Deva Woodly
Keywords: Labour Unions, Worker Centres, Labour Movement, Justice, Inequality


To what extent does the American Labor Movement conceive of justice in ways beyond narrow economic benefits? To assess the notion of justice in discourse and practice, this paper examines cases from three dominant models of labor organizing in the United States: traditional unions, worker centers, and the hybrid form of the Fight for $15. Over four case studies, we use interviews with workers and organizers, analytical accounts of the differing organizational structures of these labor advocacy groups, and discourse analysis of organizational materials of each to illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of each model. Through this examination, we show that across all organizing forms relatively little attention is paid developing and articulating the reasons why a strong labor movement is necessary and beneficial to either workers as a class or society as a whole. We then submit that if labor is to be a movement, rather than a collection of service organizations, then it is important to put forward an idea of “labor justice” which can help members of the polity reconceptualize the relationship between work, leisure, care, dignity, productivity, and prosperity.

How to Cite
Koenig, B., & Woodly, D. (2019). Building Justice in the American Labor Movement. Alternate Routes: A Journal of Critical Social Research, 30(2). Retrieved from