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U.S. Department of Labor Futurework
  Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century
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Passion with an Umbrella:
Grassroots Activism in the Workplace

Maureen Scully and Amy Segal

Sloan School of Management
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Task Force Working Paper #WP13

Prepared for the May 25-26, 1999, conference “Symposium on Changing Employment Relations and New Institutions of Representation”

September 1, 1999


Our findings point to three important themes that we explore here. First, we return to the question of what a social movement perspective reveals about workplace activism, and how the distinctive character of workplace activism informs social movement theory. We discuss the dynamic interplay that we saw between the "passion" of the grassroots with the management "umbrella." Second, we turn to the tactics the activists employed to bring about change. We discuss how these tactics can serve as both opportunities and constraints in achieving change. Finally, there is the question of what, in fact, is changed by the activism of employees. We propose a theory of change that relies on halting steps and opportunistic moments, cautioning against premature judgments over the efficacy or inadequacy of these change efforts. We use these three themes below to discuss the story of activists' change efforts and their implications.

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