With inequality growing and competitive market forces on the march, can unions play a constructive role in solving the problems of capitalist economic development? Should they try? In this study of coalition building in Buffalo, New York we find that regular procedures of problem solving involving multiple coalition partners – what we call a high-road social infrastructure – have developed in the city. We discuss the progression of union approaches to economic development, including in-plant and regional labor-management partnership, community coalitions and the creation of labor-led nonprofit organizations. In response to long-term economic and social crisis, a group of union leaders has begun carrying out projects to help attract investment from outside the region and improve the quality of jobs in the region. Coalition-building, however, is hampered by uncertainty about the best union strategy, enmity from some business and political elites, and the scale of the region’s long-term structural problems.