Labor and the Environmental Movement

From Urban and Industrial Environments

Labor and the Environmental Movement

The Quest for Common Ground

By Brian K. Obach





Relations between organized labor and environmental groups are typically characterized as adversarial, most often because of the specter of job loss invoked by industries facing environmental regulation. But, as Brian Obach shows, the two largest and most powerful social movements in the United States actually share a great deal of common ground. Unions and environmentalists have worked together on a number of issues, including workplace health and safety, environmental restoration, and globalization (as in the surprising solidarity of "Teamsters and Turtles" in the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle).

Labor and the Environmental Movement examines why, when, and how labor unions and environmental organizations either cooperate or come into conflict. By exploring the interorganizational dynamics that are crucial to cooperative efforts and presenting detailed studies of labor-environmental group coalition building from around the country (examining in detail examples from Maine, New Jersey, New York, Washington, and Wisconsin), it provides insight into how these movements can be brought together to promote a just and sustainable society.

Obach gives a brief history of relations between organized labor and environmental groups in the United States, explores how organizational learning can increase organizations' ability to work with others, and examines the crucial role played by "coalition brokers" who maintain links to both movements. He challenges research that attempts to explain inter-movement conflict on the basis of cultural distinctions between blue-collar workers and middle-class environmentalists, providing evidence of legal and structural constraints that better explain the organizational differences class-culture and new-social-movement theorists identify. The final chapter includes a model of the crucial determinants of cooperation and conflict that can serve as the basis for further study of inter-movement relations.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262151092 352 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 4 illus.


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262650663 352 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 4 illus.


  • An original and insightful examination of the ways in which government structures and the imperatives of organizational maintenance combine to shape the political behavior of social movement organizations. Obach has provided an important contribution to the social movement literature.

    Frances Fox Piven

    Distinguished Service Professor of Sociology and Political Science, Graduate Center, City University of New York

  • Journalists continue to 'discover' the story of the relationship between labor and the environment as if it were new. This book goes beyond that hackneyed frame and looks at the story in the only way it can really be understood—in historical context. This will make it especially useful for environmentalists.

    Carl Pope

    Executive Director, Sierra Club

  • Brian Obach has given us a well-written, insightful, and balanced examination of the complex relationship between the labor and environmental movements in the United States. It should be required reading for all those who believe that forging a bridge between these two groups would create a potent force for progressive social and political change.

    John J. Sweeney

    President, AFL-CIO