UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Vancouver's living wage campaign : social movement unionism and identity construction Ptashnick, Melita Blanche


This thesis presents the findings of research on a living wage campaign conducted by low-wage hospital support workers. First, I conducted an analysis with a mobilization theory framework to assess whether a campaign strategy that utilizes the extended set of collective action frames associated with social movement unionism can compensate for the effects of severe economic environmental conditions on labour bargaining power. Second, as identity narratives have important consequences for social movement mobilization, I assessed how story modes shape identity assertion and alliance building within a social movement unionism organizing model. Based on findings from interviews with the outsourced workers, I recommend modifications to mobilization theory because within a social movement unionism model, campaign success depends, in part, on workers actively shaping the interpretive framework, and on social cohesion within the union’s horizontal network. While a depressed economic environment may dampen the power of interpretive framework resonance and social cohesion to achieve economic success from a campaign, successes in worker empowerment and skills can still be achieved. It is worthwhile to continue social movement strategies through a poor economic period to maximize the economic gains that are possible under the conditions as well as to empower and train workers into activists, and to organize horizontal networks, thus laying the groundwork for social movement expansion and success, when economic conditions improve. In addition, the findings reveal that the worker activists presented associational declarations of their alliances and atrocity tales of their hardships as their favoured motivational tools for mobilization. In their atrocity tales of hardship, activists asserted value-based identities to encourage mobilization, while associational declarations indicated that in order to build alliances activists selected an identity to emphasize their similarity to a given potential ally. These findings indicate that the basis for identity construction and assertion to encourage micromobilization is contingent on the type of social movement organizing model, alignment of activist and public values, and the nature of the ally audience.

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