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A History of the International Labor Communications Association
Bates, Matthew Clark
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ABSTRACT Title of dissertation: A HISTORY OF THE INTERNATIONAL LABOR COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATION Matthew C. Bates, Doctor of Philosophy, 2012 Dissertation directed by: Professor Linda Steiner Philip Merrill College of Journalism Keywords: labor, unions, press, media, journalism, International Labor Press Association, ILCA, ILPA, AFL-CIO, social movements This dissertation examines post-World War II debates within U.S. unions over the role and character of the labor press. I use archival sources and interviews to construct a history of the International Labor Communications Association (ILCA). The AFL-CIO created the ILCA (originally, the International Labor Press Association) in 1956 to strengthen communications with union members and the public. Representing hundreds of publications, the ILCA remains the only national organization of journalists working on behalf of U.S. unions. The debates over the role and character of union media are put in the context of social movement and organization theory. Like most modern social movements, organized labor exists as both a set of bureaucratic institutions and as diffuse agglomerations of individuals struggling against dominant social actors. Policies and practices that prioritize the needs of union organizations and leaders (i.e. tendencies towards "business unionism") frequently conflict with the needs and impulses of rank-and-file workers ("social movement unionism"). The debates I examine--a campaign in the 1960s to win AFL-CIO support for community-based labor newspapers; divisions among union editors and leaders in the 1980s and 1990s over the use of electronic technologies for national public relations instead of local campaigns; a dispute in the late 1990s over editorial freedom for union journalists--express the underlying tensions between business and social-movement unionism. Movements use internal media to create member identities, define opponents, frame issues, and set goals. Debates over the content of movement media and who those media should mobilize are debates over the nature of the movement itself. U.S. unions are shrinking in size and influence. I conclude that union media will be indispensable in any successful effort to spark a new workers' movement. Given the constraints imposed by union leaders on the labor press, however, I conclude that the chances of igniting a new movement will be greatly enhanced if union journalists collaborate outside the current union structures. Digital media and networks of progressive media activists offer unprecedented opportunities for union journalists to communicate with vast numbers of wage earners rapidly, and at relatively low cost.