Worker Resistance and Media

Challenging Global Corporate Power in the 21st Century

by Lina Dencik (Author) Peter Wilkin (Author)
©2015 Textbook XVII, 260 Pages
Series: Global Crises and the Media, Volume 18


With developments in media technologies creating new opportunities and challenges for social movements to emerge and mobilize, this book is a timely and necessary examination of how organized labour and workers movements are engaging with this shifting environment. Based on extensive empirical research into emerging migrant and low-wage workers movements and their media practices, this book takes a critical look at the nature of worker resistance to ever-growing global corporate power in a digital age. Situating trade unionism in historical context, the book considers other forms of worker organizations and unionism, including global unionism, social movement unionism, community unionism, and syndicalist unionism, all of which have become increasingly relevant in a digitized world-system. At a time when the labour movement is said to be in crisis, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in the state of the labour movement, the future of unions, and the possibilities for challenging corporate exploitation of workers today.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Acronyms
  • Series Editor’s Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction. Labour, Media and Globalisation
  • Situating the Labour Movement in the Modern World-System
  • The Labour Movement and the Media
  • The Media as Fourth Estate
  • The Structure of the Book
  • Chapter 1. Trade Unions, the Labour Movement and the First Wave of Globalisation
  • The Meaning and History of Trade Unions
  • Trade Unions and the First Wave of Globalisation 1870–1914
  • The First International: The Libertarian and Authoritarian Divide
  • The Great Transformation: War, Nationalism and Revolution in the Period of De-Globalisation
  • The Consciousness Industries and Crises in the World-System
  • The Golden Age of Capitalism? The Cold War and the Geo-Politics of Trade Unionism
  • Chapter 2. Labour and the Second Wave of Globalisation—Digitising the World-System
  • Resurgent Capitalism and the Ideology of the Corporation
  • Neoliberalism and the Corporate Counter-Revolution
  • Corporate Propaganda and the Colonisation of the Public Realm
  • Post-Fordism, Financial Globalisation and the Modern World-System
  • The Neoliberal State: ‘No Banker Left Behind’
  • Trade Unions and Globalisation from Below—The Death of the Labour Movement?
  • Global Unions
  • Community Unionism
  • Social Movement Unionism/Social Justice Unionism
  • Syndicalist/Autonomist Union Movements
  • Chapter 3. Social Media, Digital Activism and Labour Movements—Worker Resistance in the New Protest Environment
  • The Internet and Unions—The Makings of a Global Labournet?
  • Digital Media as Alternative Media: From Indymedia to Labor Notes
  • A Case of Numbers: Unions and Digital Campaigning
  • Social Media, Movements and ‘New’ Protest Cultures
  • Social Media and Transformations in the Labour Movement—Building a New Unionism?
  • Bringing Organising Back in through Social Media
  • Conclusion: Digital Media and Defining the Future of Unionism
  • Chapter 4. The Globalising of the Justice for Janitors Movement
  • Going Global? The SEIU Organising Model
  • The Evolution of JFJ Strategies and Tactics: The SEIU Organising Model
  • London Calling: The Rise of the Justice for Cleaners Campaign
  • London Citizens, Unions and the London Living Wage Campaign
  • Justice for Cleaners—From Community to Social Movement Unionism?
  • Organising the Unorganised? From the Virtual to the Real World of J4C
  • Virtual Organising Along the Supply Chain—Networks of Resistance
  • Organising for Real
  • Evaluating the JFJ/JFC Movement
  • Chapter 5. Fast Food Forward—From Industrial Power to Public Image
  • Big Unions and the ‘Outsourcing’ of Organising
  • New Tactics: ‘Flash Strikes’ and Non-Unionised Worker Resistance
  • Fast Food Forward: ‘A March on the Media’
  • Social Media and the Creation of Narratives
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 6. The Domestic Workers Movement—Connecting Informal Labour
  • From ‘Helpers’ to ‘Workers’—A Global Campaign
  • Migration and Limits to Internationalism
  • Organising Domestic Workers—Place and Community
  • Social Media and (Dis)Connected Networks of Resistance
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 7. Online Labour Activism and State-Corporate Control
  • The Struggle Over the Internet: Control and Counter-Control
  • The Political Economy of Digital Media: Exploiting Participation
  • Digital Media, State-Corporate Surveillance and Regimes of Governance
  • Corporate ‘Management’ of Online Activism: Eliminating Risks to the Brand
  • (Lack of) Resistance to Surveillance and State-Corporate Control: A Techno-Legal Response
  • A Labour Response to Digital State-Corporate Control: An Opportunity for Independent Social Movement Unionism?
  • Conclusion
  • Conclusion. Re-Imagining Worker Resistance in the Twenty-First Century
  • A New International?
  • Seattle and Its Aftermath
  • Building a Global Alliance?
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index



We live in a global age. We inhabit a world that has become radically interconnected, interdependent, and communicated in the formations and flows of the media. This same world also spawns proliferating, often interpenetrating, “global crises.”

From climate change to the war on terror, financial meltdowns to forced migrations, pandemics to world poverty, and humanitarian disasters to the denial of human rights, these and other crises represent the dark side of our globalized planet. Their origins and outcomes are not confined behind national borders and they are not best conceived through national prisms of understanding. The impacts of global crises often register across “sovereign” national territories, surrounding regions and beyond, and they can also become subject to systems of governance and forms of civil society response that are no less encompassing or transnational in scope. In today’s interdependent world, global crises cannot be regarded as exceptional or aberrant events only, erupting without rhyme or reason or dislocated from the contemporary world (dis)order. They are endemic to the contemporary global world, deeply enmeshed within it. And so too are they highly dependent on the world’s media and communication networks. ← xi | xii →

The series Global Crises and the Media sets out to examine not only the media’s role in the communication of global threats and crises but also how they can variously enter into their constitution, enacting them on the public stage and helping to shape their future trajectory around the world. More specifically, the volumes in this series seek to: (1) contextualize the study of global crisis reporting in relation to wider debates about the changing flows and formations of world media communication; (2) address how global crises become variously communicated and contested in both so-called “old” and “new” media around the world; (3) consider the possible impacts of global crisis reporting on public awareness, political action, and policy responses; (4) showcase the very latest research findings and discussion from leading authorities in their respective fields of inquiry; and (5) contribute to the development of positions of theory and debate that deliberately move beyond national parochialisms and/or geographically disaggregated research agendas. In these ways the specially commissioned books in the Global Crises and the Media series aim to provide a sophisticated and empirically engaged understanding of the media’s changing roles in global crises and thereby contribute to academic and public debate about some of the most significant global threats, conflicts, and contentions in the world today.

Worker Resistance and Media: Challenging Global Corporate Power in the 21st Century by Lina Dencik and Peter Wilkin perfectly resonates with both the global and critical thrusts of the series. Written by two expert academics in the field, this book provides a much-needed intervention into a conspicuously under-researched and under-developed field of media and communications scholarship. Perhaps it is the lingering ‘methodological nationalism’ identified and challenged by the influential social theorist Ulrich Beck that helps account for the continuing academic focus that—anachronistically in a globalized world—continues to conceive of its object of study as confined within national borders? Perhaps, more generously, it is the understandable political impetus to resist and challenge in, through and/or against historically forged political organizations, including the state and national labour markets, that also helps account for the continuing national focus in studies of labor movements around the world? In a globalizing world of transnational corporations and international flows of capital as well as migrant workers and movements of low-wage workers all seeking to survive as best they can in a world of corporate power and precarity of life chances, the researcher’s gaze ← xii | xiii → as much as that of the activist and concerned citizen needs to extend beyond ‘the national.’ When it does so a new panoramic view opens up, one of changing global corporate structures and systems of control as well as new forms of worker exploitation and resistance around the world.

This book is the first attempt to engage seriously with these new formations of corporate global power and forms of worker resistance, and does so with a keen eye on the possible opportunities and leverage that could yet be harnessed from new media and communication technologies. As the authors observe at the outset: ‘The media occupies a long-standing and complicated place in the history of labour movements—as a space for visibility and resistance—but to a larger extent as an instrument for repression and social control.’ They are also cognisant, however, of how ‘the media environment is said to be changing, becoming more complex and differentiated, and creating new opportunities and challenges.’ It is in this context that they pose a simple but politically crucial question. They ask: ‘How, then, has the labour movement been able to take advantage of these changes in media platforms as part of the struggle to mobilise, organise and respond to increasingly global corporate activity?’

Worker Resistance and Media: Challenging Global Corporate Power in the 21st Century provides the first sustained, empirically detailed discussion of the changing nature of global corporate power and communications opportunities for the labour movement in the twenty-first century. It provides a closely argued and more circumspect argument than usual about the role and possibilities of communications in workers’ resistance. The authors are not persuaded by those sometimes celebratory but empirically wanting claims now often heard about the democratizing forms and platforms of new media. Their study helps illuminate some of the complexities and difficulties involved, and it does so in part based on three fascinating case studies of different campaigns—Justice for Cleaners in the UK, Fast Food Forward in the US, and the domestic workers movement in South East Asia. As Series Editor I am particularly pleased to see a title on this little-researched but globally crucial issue in the series. Labour movements around the world are fundamentally implicated in a wide array of globally intersecting global crises. As the authors rightly observe: ‘rational and humane solutions to the global crises facing humanity in the twenty-first century depend in fact upon a labour movement that can democratize the world-system.’ This book in ← xiii | xiv → researching and reflecting seriously on the role of the media within processes of corporate control and worker resistance offers grounded discussion and a much-needed intervention into this little-researched but humanly and politically consequential field. I recommend it to you.

Simon Cottle, Series Editor ← xiv | v →


We would like to thank everyone we interviewed for this book for their time and kind generosity. Particular thanks to the New York IWW branch for hosting us during our fieldwork in New York City and to Cardiff University for awarding a grant that allowed us to carry out fieldwork in South east Asia. We would also like to thank Simon Cottle for his encouragement of the project and Mary Savigar at Peter Lang Publishing for her support in getting it published.

Lina and Peter
← xv | xvi →

← xvi | 1 →



XVII, 260
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (January)
99% 99er, low-wage US unions unionist
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XVII, 260 pp.

Biographical notes

Lina Dencik (Author) Peter Wilkin (Author)

Lina Dencik (PhD, Goldsmiths) is Lecturer at the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University. She is the author of Media and Global Civil Society (2012) and co-editor, with Oliver Leistert, of Critical Perspectives on Social Media and Protest: Between Control and Emancipation (2015). Peter Wilkin (PhD, Southampton) is Reader in the School of Social Sciences at Brunel University. He is the author of The Political Economy of Global Communication (2001) and co-editor, with Mark Lacy, of Global Politics in the Information Age (2006).


Title: Worker Resistance and Media
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279 pages