Power and Strategy Class Fall 2021

How do groups in society achieve the changes they seek?  This course will explore how elites, labor unions, community organizations, political parties and social movements organize, develop strategies and deploy resources to advance their interests and win major changes in society.  To provide a shared framework, we’ll begin with an overview of classical and contemporary theories of power and cause and effect.  We’ll look at elite strategies to wield power developed in the military, Silicon Valley, business, and politics.  We’ll also consider five “strategies from below,” including building mass organization, disruptive movements, efforts to capture governing power, “inside-outside” strategies.

In the eternal battle between David and Goliath, how and why does David sometimes win?  We’ll examine a variety of case studies from the right and left, including the orchestrated rise of neoliberalism, and cutting-edge campaigns from contemporary racial justice and labor and other movements.  The class will focus heavily on introducing applied tools for strategy development from a variety of traditions.  We’ll review tools commonly used in campaigns like power analysis and strategy charts, but also introduce frameworks like “lean start up,” reverse engineering, OODA loops, emergent strategy, scenario planning, policy feedback loops, time shifting and methods to harness and work with strong emotions. The class is appropriate for intermediate to advanced social change organizers and campaigners, as well as for graduate students. The class will feature guest faculty and practitioners with extensive experience building winning campaigns.

Departmental permission required.


Stephanie Luce is Professor of Labor Studies at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies and Professor of Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is a member of the PSC-CUNY/AFT faculty staff union and has spent many years working with unions and labor community coalitions on living wage campaigns, policy fights and organizing projects.

Deepak Bhargava is Distinguished Lecturer at CUNY’s School of Labor and Urban Studies and has been involved in social change movements and organizations for over 30 years, including 16 years leading Community Change.

Who Should Apply

This class is suitable for both current graduate students and for non-matriculated students who are experienced labor, community, environmental or social movement leaders, organizers, or campaigners.  Departmental permission required. 

Meeting Schedule and Requirements

The class will meet on Thursday evenings from 6:15 – 8:45 pm Eastern time.  The class will be held entirely online, so non-NYC students can participate fully in the course.  The first class will be held on 8/26/2021 and the term runs for 15 weeks ending on 12/16/2021.

There will be extensive reading, writing and class engagement as part of this course.  Non-matriculating students who are social change practitioners will be assessed based on their application of tools presented in the course. 


Exact tuition and fee levels have not been set for the fall term, but for the spring 2020 term fees and tuition costs for non-matriculating New York State residents were $1552.50 and for non-matriculating out-of-state students $2707.50.  For graduate students, the total cost was the same, plus an additional $10.00 in application fees. 

(Up to date information on fees and tuition can be found here).

Deadline for Applications: May 30thBut the class will be filled as successful applications are approved, so early submission is strongly encouraged.

Application Form is here

Those accepted into the class will be asked to fill out the CUNY enrollment application form.

Time to Raise Pay for Home Care Workers

Isaac Jabola-Carolus, Ruth Milkman and I find that raising pay for home care workers is not only a good thing to do, it is good economic policy. Our report finds that lifting home care pay toward a living wage, and providing health care, would generate over $7.6 billion in economic benefits, fill nearly 20,000 open home care jobs and create 18,000 jobs in other sectors. Read the full report here.

State of the Unions 2020

The 2020 “State of the Unions” report Ruth Milkman and I write each Labor Day is out.

This year, we took a look at the impact of Covid-19 on some of the largest unions. Between furloughs and layoffs, Covid infections, and deaths, the numbers are devastating.

Union density continues to decline overall and in New York City. But despite the attacks on public-sector unions, public sector density went up in New York City. This may be evidence that the unions’ efforts to do serious internal organizing paid off.

Over 60% of all union members in the city, and over 70% of all members in the state, work in just three sectors: education, health care, and public administration.

Unions and Racial Justice

How can unions go beyond statements of support for racial justice? I interviewed Rob Baril from 1199 SEIU-New England, Pam Galpern from CWA 1101, and Maryclare Flores and Lea Serena from the Boston Teachers Union to hear more about what their unions are doing to advance the struggle and tell their stories at Organizing Upgrade.
Rob Baril represents health care workers. “There are a lot of ways in which Black Lives don’t matter,” he said. “Whether you can’t breathe because a cop has a knee of your neck, or because you have to use a trash bag for PPE, you are just as dead.”

Digital Media organizing

Five years ago, workers at Gawker Media voted to form a union with the Writer’s Guild of America, East. That set off a wave of unionization among digital writers and podcasters. In five years, the Guild has organized 21 shops and over 2,000 workers.

In honor of the 5 year anniversary, Haley Shaffer and I interviewed Guild members and organizers to hear how much the union has accomplished. See the report and website display here!

The Coronavirus Crisis Exposes How Fragile Capitalism Already Was

In my latest piece for Labor Notes, I argue that the pandemic didn’t cause the economy to crash: it was only a trigger. You could say that the real economy was already immune-compromised and had little ability to withstand disruption.

The pandemic is exposing just how dysfunctional our economic system was to begin with. Capitalism is ideologically based on the principles of individualism and competition, but it becomes completely clear in a pandemic that what’s needed is solidarity: collective solutions that help everyone.

It Didn’t Have to Be Like This

We are being told we have to choose between saving lives and saving jobs.

I wrote this article for Labor Notes arguing we have other choices.

We can continue on the same path: privatize more of the health care system; bail out the rich, the banks, and the corporations; make drugs and vaccines available only to the highest bidder. We can blame China and escalate our trade war. We can continue sanctions on Iran and contribute to high rates of illness and death there. We can act as if diseases and treatment follow borders.

Or we can move quickly to ease the burden and rebuild, and be prepared for the next pandemic and the climate crisis which is sure to come.

Vietnam, COVID-19 and Public Health

I wanted to learn more about how Vietnam has managed to keep Covid under control. I was able to interview Professor Le Vu Anh, a public health leader and professor in Vietnam. Thanks also to Cathy Dang-Santa Ana for adding more background.

I learned some incredible things, including how the country learned from SARS to prioritize public health education and transparency. They have public health workers at the commune level. The government pays all costs for hospitalization and quarantine (including food!) for all.