School of Labour Studies

A woman with her arm raised in a fist standing in front of a large group.

Union Politics in the 21st Century

A group of people at a union rally with a woman speaking through a megaphone.

Union Politics in the 21st Century

Given their central role in the adoption of public policies that advance economic and social equity in the twentieth century, the continued effectiveness of union political campaigns in the twenty-first century is a pressing issue of general concern.


In the face of declining membership, reduced economic leverage, and stagnant gains in collective bargaining, unions have more fully embraced political strategies to protect their members and achieve policy changes that redistribute wealth and social protections. This project will undertake a systematic mapping and comparison of the strategies, tactics and framings of union campaigns to influence public policy to assess which approaches (or combination of approaches) are most successful.

What is this research about?

1) To document the range of union political strategies used since 2000, examining election campaigns, social movement pressure campaigns, political job action, and legal action.
2) To compare the relative effectiveness of these strategies in meeting their stated goals, and identify the factors that contribute to the (in)effectiveness of union political campaigns.
3) To explore the reasons unions adopt different approaches to exerting political influence, including the role that unions’ internal political cultures, collective identities, and position within the structures of economic and political power play in their strategic choices.