Tattersall, Amanda. Power in Coalition: Strategies for Strong Unions and Social Change.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Eysenbach, Derek
Pub Date: 12/22/2011
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Winter, 2011 Source Volume: 20 Source Issue: 2
Topic: NamedWork: Power in Coalition: Strategies for Strong Unions and Social Change (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Tattersall, Amanda
Accession Number: 296951977
Full Text: Tattersall, Amanda.

Power in Coalition: Strategies for Strong Unions and Social Change.

Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010.

209 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-8014-7606-8.

In the age of neoliberal urbanism, scholars are presented with questions and opportunities to reflect on the ways in which non-governmental organizations create space. Political economists often critique the malignant creep of for-profit ventures into public life and the insufferable burdens that citizens must bear in restructured, entrepreneurial cities. Amanda Tattersall tacitly acknowledges these realities, but proposes that neoliberal policies can be effectively countered through progressive coalitions between organized labour unions and place-based community organizations. While there have been some notable one-off studies on "community unionism," scholars have tended to congregate around disciplinary specialties pertaining to labour policy, organizational theory, or material transformations in the urban landscape. Tattersall, unabashedly serving as both scholar and activist, seeks to transcend disciplinary conformity and contribute a study that will be as relevant to planners and urban theorists as it is to labour scholars.

Her first case takes the reader to New South Wales, Australia, and a coalition organized around public education from 2001-2004. Facing education budget cuts and ideological hostility, the New South Wales Teacher's Federation (NSWTF) initiated a series of campaigns with community stakeholders--mostly concerned parents--to address state public education policy. Tattersall discusses three campaigns and teases out the defining moments of success and failure from each. As with each case, she provides a sobering lesson. In New South Wales, the prioritization of the union's self-interest within campaigns preserved rank and file enthusiasm, but alienated community members.

Tattersall's second case highlights the importance of "community" in coalitions. In Chicago, ten unions and community organizations came together to form the Grassroots Collaborative. Tattersall examines two campaigns related to retail workers' wages. While neither campaign achieved victory, they were still successful. Tattersall explains that the collaborative overcame community fractures and succeeded in building an enduring coalition for social change. Rather than sprint to quick victories, the collaborative built a strong organization, changed conventional living wage discourse, and continues to notch local electoral victories.

The final case in the series is an examination of the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), an organization consisting of several labour unions and dozens of local community organization in Ontario, Canada. Tattersall documents campaigns undertaken by the OHC to counter the encroachment of neoliberal reforms on the provincial healthcare system. This case, like each in the series, provides a distinguishing set of circumstances. While the coalition was supported both unions and community organization, it was led by a staff largely independent of member groups. Furthermore, the campaigns were aimed at provincial policies, but executed within local municipalities and regions. Tattersall admires the immensity and scalar agility of the OHC, but notes that it struggled to sustain a coherent agenda across the breadth of the coalition.

The three case studies are bracketed by two analytical chapters. Tattersall introduces the case studies by presenting a brief, but effective summation of community unionism literature. Instead of dwelling on the abstract, though, she suggests that measures of "success" can be understood via the organizational relationships of coalitions. This is revisited later in a summary discussion of the cases. With consideration to five lessons distilled from the cases, Tattersall prescribes a strategic agenda for would-be coalitions based on a matrix which balances organizational elements (eg. "common concerns") with standards of success (eg. "winning outcomes"). Her analysis is driven by an enthusiastic discussion of how these lessons can be applied. Ironically, it is this enthusiasm which precludes any discussion on when union-community coalitions might be inappropriate, doomed to failure, or may actually undermine broader goals of community development. Nevertheless, this shortcoming does not detract from her work and may serve to inspire further research.

For urban researchers encountering union-community coalitions, this book should be required reading. The meticulous methodological work in the case studies alone will provide much-needed assistance to researchers seeking to understand the complexities of local citizens working in partnership with unions and their baggage of self-interest, institutional rigidity, etc. Aside from the scholarly contributions, the synthesized lessons will be powerful tools for community organizers. The "social change" that Tattersall seeks is a matter of enduring relationships, and not ad-hoc campaigns. Similarly, this work transcends the one-off case study trend of community unionism and builds a foundation upon which scholars and professionals of all disciplinary stripes can build new theory.

Derek Eysenbach

School of Geography and Development, University of Arizona.
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.