Building Power from Below

9781501712883: Hardback
Release Date: 15th September 2017

9781501712890: Paperback
Release Date: 15th September 2017

1 b&w halftone, 4 charts

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 196

Cornell University Press

Building Power from Below

Chilean Workers Take On Walmart

Hardback / £82.00
Paperback / £19.99

A story that involves as its main players "workers" and "Walmart" does not usually have a happy ending for labor, so the counternarrative offered by Building Power from Below is must reading for activists and union personnel as well as scholars. In 2008 Walmart acquired a controlling share in a large supermarket chain in Santiago, Chile. As part of the deal Walmart had to accept the unions that were already in place. Since then, Chilean retail and warehouse workers have done something that has seemed impossible for labor in the United States: they have organized even more successful unions and negotiated unprecedented contracts with Walmart.

In Building Power from Below, Carolina Bank Muñoz attributes Chilean workers’ success in challenging the world’s largest corporation to their organizations’ commitment to union democracy and building strategic capacity. Chilean workers have spent years building grassroots organizations committed to principles of union democracy. Retail workers’ unions have less structural power, but have significant associational and symbolic power. Their most notable successes have been in fighting for respect and dignity on the job. Warehouse workers by contrast have substantial structural power and have achieved significant economic gains. While the model in Chile cannot necessarily be reproduced in different countries, we can gain insights from the Chilean workers’ approaches, tactics, and strategies.

List of Acronyms
1. Beating the Bully
2. Walmart in Chile
3. Leveraging Power
4. Strategic Democracy
5. The Flexible Militancy of Walmart Retail Workers
6. Looking Back and Going Forward

Carolina Bank Muñoz is Associate Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College. She is the author of Transnational Tortillas, also from Cornell.

"Building Power from Below is a timely, fascinating, and highly readable book that provides insight into how it is possible to ‘beat the bully.’ It provides a well-written, well-documented, and theoretically informed account as to how, even under neoliberalism, workers are able to deploy their power to overcome incredible odds."

Fernando Leiva, author of Latin American Neostructuralism

"Carolina Bank Muñoz’s analysis of a success story in Chile’s retail industry, which is known to be particularly antiunion, is fascinating and important. The comparison of retail and logistics is particularly novel. Building Power from Below will draw interest from a wide range of readers both inside and outside the academy."

Joel Stillerman, author of The Sociology of Consumption

"Building Power from Below is an enjoyable read. Muñoz introduces the union leaders and activists by name. The reader feels an intimacy with those activists. This book should be read by all those interested in strengthening democracy, militancy and strategic capacity in trade unions. It is a demonstration of how workers even under a neoliberal state and employed by the world's most anti-union corporation can beat the bully and win."


"I would highly recommend this book to both labor activists/organizers and students of labor studies alike. This book provides a detailed account of successful union organizing against the powerful, antiunion, transnational employer that is Walmart. Both union organizers and labor studies students will benefit from Muñoz's analysis of successful union organization outside of the Western context."

Labor Studies Journal

"What Bank Muñoz successfully demonstrates in this book is that lessons for successful organization can often come from unexpected places. I recommend this book to scholars of labor politics and social change; moreover, its short length makes it well suited for classroom use."

Contemporary Sociology

"This book gives us insights of how Walmart employees have been able to actually reach significant concessions from this giant corporation. Importantly, this book should not just be read by scholars interested in employment relations in the Global South. Academics and activists interested in the different types of power organizations can have, how to build it, and how to use it, should all have this on their shelves."

Work and Occupations

"An accessible, insightful, and refreshing contribution."