A Study of Local Labor Unions as Mediating Structures: Exploring the Black Box of Democratic Participation
Hanlin, Carrie E.
This thesis describes the details and rationale of a study exploring particular organizations that work to address structural inequalities in our society, local labor unions. The purpose of this study was to explore local labor unions using the lens of mediating structures, in which specific “program” components or activities that local labor unions sponsor for their members are examined as mechanisms of democratic participation. In this way, light may be shed on the organizational mechanisms that have made unions vital in citizen mobilization and voter turnout. Labor leaders within the Kansas City metropolitan area were surveyed about their union-sponsored programs and activities, specifically internal, nonelectoral political, and electoral democratic activities, and asked some general demographic information about their unions. These data were analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics to paint a picture of the union landscape in Kansas City, as well as to provide an insight into the internal workings of mediating structures. Union memberships were predominantly white and male. Positive correlations were found between proportion of male members and general election turnout estimates; and between union size and nonelectoral political activities as well as electoral activities. Nonelectoral political activities were offered most regularly, followed by electoral, then internal activities. Average democratic activity overall, as measured by the survey, was high. Implications for labor unions and other mediating structures, as well as limitations of the study are discussed.