Union Leaders: Experimental Evidence from Myanmar

Social movements are catalysts for crucial institutional changes. To succeed, they must
coordinate members’ views (consensus building) and actions (mobilization). We study union leaders within Myanmar’s burgeoning labour movement. Union leaders are positively selected on both personality traits that enable them to influence others and ability but earn lower wages. In group discussions about workers’ views on an upcoming national minimum wage negotiation, randomly embedded leaders build consensus around the union’s preferred policy. In an experiment that mimics individual decision-making in a collective action set-up, leaders increase mobilization through coordination. Leaders empower social movements by building consensus that encourages mobilization.

Written with Laura Boudreau (Columbia University, CEPR, and IGC), Rocco Macchiavello (LSE Department of Management, STICERD, and IGC) and Mari Tanaka (Hitotsubashi University Institute of Economic Research)