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Organized Labor Unions Bridge Social Divides To Allow For Nonviolent Collective Action

Organized Labor Unions Bridge Social Divides To Allow For Nonviolent Collective Action


Organized labor and trade unions create interconnected social networks that bridge diverse groups of people and aid in the mobilization for mass collective action.

In the News:

“In recent years, the West African country Burkina Faso turned heads when popular protests prevented then president Blaise Compaoré from discarding constitutional term limits and eventually forced him to resign. This entirely unexpected outcome raised important questions. How did this wave of public protests and the resulting civilian-led transition prevail over a longtime president and overcome a subsequent pro-Compaoré coup attempt to derail the progress the activists had achieved?”

The ideological diversity and personality-driven nature of Burkinabè opposition parties was too strong. Even Sankarist parties, small partisan entities that supposedly shared values and objectives, had never managed to come together behind a single flagbearer. This time around, civic and political opposition forces managed to coalesce and prevent Compaoré from meddling with the constitution. The anti-Compaoré coalition widened even further when Burkina Faso’s political transition was threatened by the September 2015 coup, at which point trade unions actively joined the cause. Trade unions previously had been conspicuously discreet during the insurrection. In the fall of 2014, they opted to ignore the ongoing political struggle and instead organized a general strike in late October 2014 denouncing the country’s living and working conditions, especially in the education sector. At that time, they dismissed the debate about presidential succession, arguing that they were seeking a revolutionary alternative. The coup attempt drastically changed their strategy. Burkina Faso’s trade unions then immediately launched a general strike and used their networks to mobilize people across the country to adopt a stance of active resistance.”

Insight from Peace Science:

  • Manufacturing enables the creation of interconnected social networks by bringing together groups of people with diverse backgrounds.
  • An increase in manufacturing increases the likelihood of nonviolent resistance campaigns.
  • As countries continue to modernize, social conflict is more likely to become nonviolent.
  • Countries with a larger percentage of their GDP from the manufacturing industry are more likely to experience nonviolent conflict than violent conflict.
  • Organized labor bridges social divides, allowing for mass mobilization and nonviolent collective action utilizing economically derived leverage as a means of social resistance 

Economic sectors, such as manufacturing, can play an important role in building bridges within a society and encouraging grievances to be addressed through nonviolent means. Countries with the weakest economies are poised to benefit from this research the most. When this study looked at developing regions in Africa, even in poorer, more authoritarian states, the slightest increase in manufacturing translated into an increase in the likelihood of nonviolent resistance by roughly 15%, and a decrease in the likelihood of civil war onset.


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