By Ruth Milkman
Two years ago I focused my ASA Presidential address on social movements led by Millennials, building on Karl Mannheim’s classic treatise on “The Problem of Generations.” As the first generation of “digital natives,” and the one most directly impacted by the economic precarity that emerged from the neoliberal transformation of the labor market, the Millennial generation has a distinctive life experience and worldview. Disappointed by the false promises of racial and gender equality, and faced with skyrocketing growth in class inequality, Millennial activists embrace an explicitly intersectional political agenda. This generation is the most highly educated one in U.S. history, and indeed it is college-educated Millennials who have been most extensively galvanized into political activism. My address documented their role as the dominant demographic in four high-profile 21st-century social movements: Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the “Dreamers” and the campus-based activism around sexual assault (which later helped spark the multi-generational “Me Too” movement).
When I researched and wrote that piece, there was little evidence of a significant Millennial presence in the organized labor movement. In fact, young workers have been underrepresented among labor union members for decades, in part because of the scarcity of new union organizing efforts. But now that may be changing. In 2017, over three-quarters of the increase in union membership was accounted for by workers under 35 years old, as a recent Economic Policy Institute post noted. (The total number of U.S. union members in 2017 rose by about 262,ooo over the previous year, although the unionization rate was unchanged.) In addition, survey data show that Millennials express far more pro-union attitudes than their baby boomer counterparts do. Continue reading Millennials and the Labor Movement that Refuses to Die