The image of an implacable Sally Field holding aloft a handwritten “UNION” sign may be what first comes to mind when thinking of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union's (ACTWU's) two-decade-long campaign to unionize textile manufacturer J.P. Stevens, famously dramatized in the 1979 movie Norma Rae. But another moment in that campaign, which does not appear in the film, may have been more decisive to its outcome. That was when the union used its control over the Amalgamated Bank, founded in 1922 with the deposits of immigrant textile workers, to pressure the insurance behemoth Metropolitan Life, which owned $100 million of Stevens's debt, to weigh in on the campaign. To prove that it meant business, the ACTWU threatened to run two dissidents for the Metropolitan Life board of directors. Not long after, CEO Richard Shinn called Whitney Stevens, chairman of J.P. Stevens, and told him to settle with the union.
The ACTWU's victory in the Stevens campaign was an early sign of what Sanford M. Jacoby calls, in his new book Labor in the Age of Finance, the “potency of financial activism” (p. 32). In his richly detailed account of “labor's financial turn,” Jacoby, who is Distinguished Research Professor of History, Management, and Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Ang
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