A Movement in the Wake of a New Law: The United Farm Workers and the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act
37 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2005
Date Written: June 1, 2005
How does the passage of a new law affect the social movement that pursued it? Law and social movements scholarship suggests that the "implementation phase" following a legislative victory is a particularly challenging one, with agency capture, bureaucratic foot-dragging, and state co-optation undermining the movement's capacity to deliver what it has promised. This paper, however, tells a different story. In 1975, the United Farm Workers (UFW) succeeded in passing the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, an extraordinary law governing farm labor organizing in California, with provisions much more pro-worker than the National Labor Relations Act. For several years beginning in 1975, the UFW used the new law as a springboard to build its farm worker representation to new heights, despite challenges introduced by the state's comprehensive regulation of the unionization process. I analyze why the Act proved so helpful to the UFW during this period, both drawing on and contesting the more pessimistic law and social movement literature. I conclude that the implementation phase is a richer one than we commonly recognize, with possibilities that depend greatly on the political environment, the type of law in question, and on the particular movement's history, experience with law as a part of its organizing strategy, and level of cohesion and engagement at the time of the law's passage. These possibilities coexist with the tensions that inevitably plague efforts to make new rights real.
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