How Decent Work and Trade Unions Bolster Democracy in Diverse Societies

This paper contends that stable work relationships in diverse workplaces, together with trade unions, can help to counter ethnic polarization and the rise of ethno-nationalist political narratives. First, the experience of working with diverse co-workers tends to engender social ties and feelings of shared fate and mutual belonging across lines of social division. Second, trade unions, with their roots in common work and shared economic interests, have both powerful reasons and a distinctive capacity to coax such ties into stronger bonds of solidarity, and to counter divisive narratives of racial and ethnic competition, from the workplace up to the highest tiers of national political discourse. Unfortunately, the capacity of workplaces and unions to perform those vital political functions has been seriously degraded by union decline and by changes in the organization and security of work through fissuring, fragmentation, precarity, virtuality, and automation.