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Moral Economies, Mobilization, and Inequality: The Case of the 2018 US Teachers' Strikes

The Politics of Inequality

ISBN: 978-1-83909-363-0, eISBN: 978-1-83909-362-3

Publication date: 19 July 2021


Labor unions play a key role in combating inequality. Recent research focuses on unions' ability to shape “moral economies” that make greater inequality socially inappropriate. But this research largely hypothesizes moral economy pathways for combating inequality, rather than showing them in action. Through a case study of the 2018 teachers' strike wave, we identify mechanisms that allow unions to shape moral economies. Based on analysis of in-depth interviews with key strike leaders, social media discussion groups, and contemporaneous media coverage, we find that the interaction of sustained mass disruption and worker–organizer intervention were the key mechanisms that allowed the teachers and their unions to reshape moral economies. Externally, the strikes created a social and political crisis to which political elites had to respond, while tying the teachers' struggles to broader community issues, galvanizing public support for the strikes. As disruptions escalated, the teachers' experience of collective action created a positive feedback effect, reshaping workers' understanding of what they wanted, what they deserved, and what they could win. The 2018 teachers' strike is analytically useful because it managed to reshape norms and expectations around educational and economic inequality rapidly, on a large scale.



Blanc, E. and Eidlin, B. (2021), "Moral Economies, Mobilization, and Inequality: The Case of the 2018 US Teachers' Strikes", Pettinicchio, D. (Ed.) The Politics of Inequality (Research in Political Sociology, Vol. 28), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 195-213.



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