Date of Award

May 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Communication and Rhetorical Studies


Dana L. Cloud


agency, common sense, crisis, labor, mediation, sensemaking

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This thesis examines the political intervention of the Transport Workers Union Local 100 into the issue of funding for the New York City subway system to investigate the communicative effects of labor union rhetoric. By focusing on a crisis in NYC mass transit popularly described as the Summer of Hell, I demonstrate the ability of labor union leaders to mediate the experience of the transit crisis with a political system that preserves the role of decision-making elites. I use the methodological tools of rhetorical criticism and qualitative inquiry into organizational discourse to trace the construction of common-sense ideas about the political role of workers to the sensemaking practices that rank-and-file union members use to understand the crisis. Drawing on an advertisement campaign used by the transit union and field interviews with union members, I argue that the strategy of union leaders acted to promote passivity within their membership and depoliticize the role of transit labor. This work intervenes in the study of social movements, organizational communication, and Marxist theories of consciousness by emphasizing the persuasive capacities of control that organizational leaders have over their membership. Finally, this thesis argues for a detailed analysis of the process by which workers come to a sense of their own agency and the obstacles that work to prevent the transformation of consciousness.


Open Access



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