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In the Interest of Others

In the Interest of Others: Organizations and Social Activism

John S. Ahlquist
Margaret Levi
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    In the Interest of Others
    Book Description:

    In the Interest of Others develops a new theory of organizational leadership and governance to explain why some organizations expand their scope of action in ways that do not benefit their members directly. John Ahlquist and Margaret Levi document eighty years of such activism by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in the United States and the Waterside Workers Federation in Australia. They systematically compare the ILWU and WWF to the Teamsters and the International Longshoremen's Association, two American transport industry labor unions that actively discouraged the pursuit of political causes unrelated to their own economic interests.

    Drawing on a wealth of original data, Ahlquist and Levi show how activist organizations can profoundly transform the views of members about their political efficacy and the collective actions they are willing to contemplate. They find that leaders who ask for support of projects without obvious material benefits must first demonstrate their ability to deliver the goods and services members expect. These leaders must also build governance institutions that coordinate expectations about their objectives and the behavior of members.

    In the Interest of Others reveals how activist labor unions expand the community of fate and provoke preferences that transcend the private interests of individual members. Ahlquist and Levi then extend this logic to other membership organizations, including religious groups, political parties, and the state itself.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4865-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology, Psychology, Management & Organizational Behavior

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Beyond Economism
    (pp. 1-21)

    Workers flood the streets to protest government policy. They shut down businesses and public offices. This describes moments in nineteenth-century America; it certainly captures recent events in parts of Europe, Asia, and the American Midwest. While all unions are involved in politics to some degree, large-scale political strikes are rare in the contemporary Anglo-Saxon democracies, and rarer still is the use of industrial action for political ends. Variation in the size, form, and goals of political mobilization is the subject of countless studies. The most interesting tend to focus on the collective actions of those who are marginalized—be they...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Building an Encompassing Community of Fate and Winning Consent
    (pp. 22-52)

    In the last chapter we saw how some labor unions successfully and repeatedly mobilize in support of political causes that have little to do with the members’ material interests or their reasons for joining the organization. This behavior presents a fourfold puzzle. First, why would the members of these organizations be willing to take these costly actions in the absence of any obvious benefit? One possible (although dissatisfying) explanation is simply that there are people in the world who hold certain political beliefs and moral commitments. Some organizations, including some unions, simply count a lot of those “types” as members...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Pork, Perks, and Predation
    (pp. 53-78)

    Most labor unions in Anglo-Saxon democracies are business unions, that is, the unions operate as businesses that offer bargaining, lobbying, and other services in return for dues. Their stated aim is to improve the economic and work situation of the membership, and many of them do just that. Unlike the leadership of activist unions, business union leaders believe that expanding the scope of the union’s activities is costly, with few, if any, downstream benefits. If leaders provide sufficient selective incentives in services, patronage, or coercion, the members are likely to comply. If the leaders promote member welfare, the rank and...

  9. CHAPTER 4 An Injury to Anyone Is an Injury to All
    (pp. 79-119)

    The International and Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) adopted as its own the slogan of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the Wobblies: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” The ILWU and the Waterside Workers Federation (WWF)¹ take this as a mantra and, as did the Wobblies, mean it to include any worker or exploited person, even if those being harmed are continents away. Their commitments go well beyond charitable giving and resolutions of support. They actually close down the ports, sacrificing their own income and time and sometimes liberty, for causes they believe in, causes that...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Managing Heterogeneity
    (pp. 120-154)

    National-level unions succeeded in imposing (ILA, Teamsters) or winning consent with (ILWU and WWF) their formal and explicit policies, including those delineating organizational scope. This is what our model anticipates, but it does not anticipate the challenges to national organizational governance institutions created by heterogeneity among the members and across the locals. Almost all members were militant on behalf of their pocketbooks, but some held strong political convictions while others were not at all keen to be politically mobilized. Within the ILWU and WWF, many opposed Communism in principle even if they liked their union leaders. Many members were welcoming...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Provoking Preferences
    (pp. 155-184)

    The basic theory discussed in chapter 2 treats members’ willingness to go along with a leader’s political project as a purely instrumental one; the members benefit sufficiently from the leader’s knowledge and coordination abilities that they are willing to tolerate various forms of rents in order to induce the leader to be reliable through time and make the costly investments needed to acquire the necessary information. Rents can take multiple forms, including allowing leaders to take on political projects. We argue that leadership cohorts at pivotal moments can shape the nature of rents an organization directs to its leaders. The...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Political Attitudes and Behavior among ILWU Members
    (pp. 185-229)
    Amanda B. Clayton

    If any group of American workers has benefitted from the growth of trade, it is the unionized dockworkers along the U.S. West Coast. It is estimated that more than 40 percent of U.S. imports pass through the Los Angeles/Long Beach port alone (Bonacich and Wilson 2008). Container shipping volumes through West Coast ports tripled between 1990 and 2007, growing at an average annual rate of almost 5.4 percent between 1990 and 2010. Over the same period the total value of U.S. international trade grew at an average annual rate of 7 percent while annual GDP growth averaged 2.5 percent. Employment,...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Signaling Solidarity?
    (pp. 230-260)

    Members of the ILWU observed May Day 2008 by refusing to appear for work, effectively closing down the ports from Bellingham, Washington to San Diego, California. The official union newspaper, the Dispatcher, claimed that this action was to protest what they considered to be an illegal, unjust, and costly war in Iraq. More than 10,000 longshore workers stayed away from work (Serjeant and Woodall 2008). The work stoppage was illegal under the union’s contract, so workers lost a full shift’s pay and the union was exposed to possible legal repercussions. In addition to closing the ports, many ILWU locals, including...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Conclusions and Implications
    (pp. 261-278)

    We have demonstrated how union membership can influence the kind and quality of political behavior. We have shown how some unions can repeatedly induce their members to act (or refrain from acting) on behalf of those outside the group. But our interest is not limited to unions. One reason for studying unions is that they face, in miniature, many of the same challenges and possibilities confronted by other stakeholder organizations, ranging from religious and nationalist groups to political parties to states and firms. Our investigation has implications for unions but also for the relationship among leadership, governance institutions, and behavior...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 279-302)
  16. Index
    (pp. 303-315)