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Power in Coalition

20 Sep 2010

Coalitions can be an important tool for social change and labor union revitalization. What makes them successful? What causes them to fail?

Amanda Tattersall a University of Sydney graduate and honorary associate in Work and Organisational Studies has just published Power in Coalition. It is the first international study to examine successful coalitions between unions and community organizations in three countries: Chicago's living wage campaign run by the Grassroots Collaborative, the public education coalition in Sydney and Toronto's Ontario Health Coalition fighting to save universal health care.

The book explores when and how labor-community alliances can simultaneously move social change, strengthen community-based organizations and renew the power of labor unions. It identifies important lessons for building strong coalitions that are useful for labor and community organizers. For instance, counter to the popular belief that big coalitions are strong coalitions - Power in Coalition argues that "less is more". A smaller number of powerfully committed organizations will be more successful at sustaining social change and engaging union and community members than a highly broad and diverse coalition where there is little common interest.

Tattersall argues success has to be multi-faceted and include not only the social change victories, but also the ability for a coalition to sustain relationships between partner organizations and develop the leadership skills and campaigning capacity of rank and file participants in the campaigning process.

Coalitions also are more successful if they have the versatility to act at multiple scales, moving an agenda and outreach to the general public in local neighborhoods as well as across the city or state. In its Australian and Canadian case studies, the book identifies examples of where this has been done successfully through the establishment of local coalitions that have partnered with city-wide or state wide coalitions. Yet, there is an art form to multi-scaled action, and the Canadian case study cautions on lessons about balancing the need for bottom up and top down input into coalition strategy.

The author, Amanda Tattersall, is an Australian union and community organiser. She has been a leader in the student movement and immigration movements, co-founded and is an elected official at Unions NSW. She completed her PhD at the University of Sydney and is now an honorary associate in Work and Organisational studies. Over the past three years, she has been building a coalition using the lessons from her book - called the Sydney Alliance, it is a diverse coalition of religious organizations, unions and community organizations set to publicly launch in 2011.

Power in Coalition was released in September 2010 by Allen & Unwin (and internationally by Cornell University Press). To find out more about it, and launch locations visit the book's website.