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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


The Task Force on Reconstructing America’s Labor Market Institutions

The world of work is changing, but the traditional structures governing the labor market, in place since the New Deal, no longer serve the needs of workers and their families or of corporations seeking to compete in a global economy.

The mandate of the Task Force on Reconstructing America’s Labor Market Institutions is to provide a body of evidence that helps policymakers and practitioners structure a national discussion on how to update the nation’s labor market institutions—resolving the mismatch between a fundamentally new economy and a set of inappropriate intermediaries, laws, and corporate practices.

The efforts of Task Force members are divided among three working groups, each charged with examining a particular aspect of this labor market mismatch: the Working Group on the Social Contract and the American Corporation, the Working Group on Low-Income Labor Markets, and the Working Group on America’s Next Generation Labor Market Institutions.

“Symposium on Changing Employment Relations and New Institutions of Representation,” Task Force and U.S. Department of Labor Conference, May 25-26, 1999

As part of the U.S. Secretary of Labor’s project, “The Workforce/Workplace of the Future,” the U.S. Department of Labor joined with the Task Force to sponsor a symposium on changing employment relations and new institutions of representation emerging in the new economy. The meeting was organized around several key questions:

  • What new strategies and structures are being developed to better represent todays workforce?
  • How is the new social contract developing in selected best practice firms?
  • How are industrial unions and corporations redefining their roles to meet the challenges of todays economy and workforce?

In addressing these questions, symposium participants discussed: the limits of enterprise-based social contracts; labor market institutions that are developing beyond the enterprise-including community-level strategies and alternative models such as professional organizations and social identity groups; and new union strategies for building capacity and rethinking structures.

This paper, written for the symposium by Maureen Scully and Amy Segal of the MIT Sloan School of Management, informed the discussion of alternative models of worker representation.

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