The Social Foundations of Structural Power: Strategic Position, Worker Unity and External Alliances in the Making of the Chilean Dockworker Movement


  • Katy Fox-Hodess University of Sheffield
  • Camilo Santibáñez Rebolledo Instituto de Estudios Internacionales-Universidad Arturo Prat and Universidad de Santiago de Chile



This article examines the associational and societal foundations of structural power. A case study
of the ten-year-long history of the Unión Portuaria de Chile is analysed with a focus on a critical
juncture in 2012–2014. The Chilean dockworker case is an emblematic example of trade union
movement revitalisation via strikes of strategically positioned workers. Yet ethnographic research
with the organisation suggests that the role it has come to play in the country was only possible as
a result of intensive long-term organising efforts to develop a high degree of internal unity at
multiple scales, as well as sustained alliances with external actors. As a result, the authors argue that
the most economistic accounts of worker power and trade union movement revitalisation are
analytically insufficient and would benefit from greater attention to associational and societal
dimensions of power, even among the most strategically positioned workers.
KEYWORDS: trade union revitalisation; structural power; associational power; strategic position; dockworkers

Author Biographies

Katy Fox-Hodess, University of Sheffield

Dr. Katy Fox-Hodess is a lecturer in Employment Relations; member of the Centre for Decent Work; and associate fellow in SPERI at the University of Sheffield in England. She studies contemporary international solidarity among trade unions in the port sector.

Camilo Santibáñez Rebolledo, Instituto de Estudios Internacionales-Universidad Arturo Prat and Universidad de Santiago de Chile

Camilo Santibáñez Rebolledo is an adjunct professor in history at Universidad de Santiago de Chile and an associate researcher at the Instituto de Estudios Internacionales de la Universidad Arturo Prat. His doctoral thesis is a study of the historical formation of Chile’s casual dock labor force in the twentieth century.