Social Unionism

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Sara Horowitz:

"We need to build a networked economic ecosystem that helps people connect as a stronger collective--group-to-group. That's the key to long-term change.

That’s why freelancers are turning to each other to build the institutions they need to thrive. They're forming marketing collectives. They're exploring worker co-ops. They're group purchasing everything from insurance to office supplies.

Social purpose institutions built by and for freelancers are popping up across the country to help independent workers live a 360 life--where work and life and passion are all equally important. Like the new workforce itself, many of these institutions are new--but the idea goes back a century to something called “social unionism.”

In the beginning of the 20th century, organizers in the labor movement saw that workers didn’t just need better working conditions--they needed better social conditions, too. That’s why many of those unions (like the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union or the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America) focused on much more than just life on the factory floor. They served as vehicles to build the community as a whole--in the factory, in the halls of government, and in their workers’ neighborhoods. That’s why they created worker-built, for-profit institutions that served the bottom line and the social good.

For instance, in 1914, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union established New York City’s first union-owned Union Health Center. Almost a decade later, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America created the union-owned and operated Amalgamated Bank. That bank went on to finance the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative in 1927, where not only did members live, but they also housed arts programs, summer camps, and citizenship classes.

All three of these institutions--and many other examples of social unionism--still exist today. That staying power is worth examining, and emulating. In fact, that’s exactly what I did when I started Freelancers Union and Freelancers Insurance Company.

The concept of social unionism--the idea that worker-backed institutions can generate revenue and community value--is making a serious comeback. Independent workers are building the economy of the future, where fair work and a full life are combined." (

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