Civic Versus Political Participation: How Union Membership Affects Individuals' Civic Engagement
Aguilar, Allison Yvette
Research on the effects of union membership on political participation tells us that unions have political capital to spend on advancing their political agendas through electoral mobilization. But unions must have a vested interest in fostering civic engagement within their membership—beyond mere political engagement—if they hope to survive the vehement attacks from the political right and if they hope to remain relevant throughout the 21st century by increasing their density. This paper examines the distinction between political and civic engagement and analyzes the effects of unions on civic engagement by parsing out electoral politics from how “civic engagement” is defined. It uses Lisa Schur’s “Employment and the Creation of an Active Citizenry” as a point of departure and finds that much of the effect of unions on political participation is driven by civic life activities like speaking to an elected representative, attending a political meeting, writing a letter to a newspaper, working with others to change policy or participating in a demonstration. Given that the labor movement, by its nature, breeds a sense of collective responsibility to its members, the paper offers recommendations to unions to incorporate community engagement into their structures so that social capital can be harnessed and greater mutual solidarity nurtured.
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