Labor Studies

Labor Studies 

Nelson Lichtenstein, History, at ext. 4822 or e-mail

The study of capital and labor, of employment and income, of unions and managers, of poverty and wealth, and of the racial, gendered, ethnic, and linguistic character of the working-class, both domestic and global, has hardly been absent from the scholarship and teaching ofUCSB faculty. But much of this has been institutionally invisible and intellectually fragmented. One might well take this as an indication of great success: since the study of class, work, and labor is now embedded within so many disciplines, it has become an unproblematic part of the intellectual landscape. But this is just the problem, and the formation of an interdisciplinary research focus group has helped more than a dozen faculty members and an equal number of grad students compare, recast, and sharpen their understanding of a laborite universe whose ideological and social foundations are sometimes taken for granted.

The convener of the group is Nelson Lichtenstein, History, frequently in tandem with Mary Furner, History, Richard Flacks, Sociology, and Eileen Boris, Women’s Studies. Among the faculty and graduate students who have participated in the group are Richard Sullivan, grad Sociology, Chris McAuley, Black Studies, Ralph AmbrusterSandoval, Chicano Studies, Zaragosa Vargas, History, John Baranski, grad History, and Chris Newfield, English.

The group actually got started before it was officially recognized and funded by the IHC. Our first speaker, in March 2002, was Paul Buhle, Brown, who lectured on Hollywood during the Black List era. This was followed during August 2002, by a major conference, “Justice at Work: A Conference Honoring David Brody.” Although funding for this conference, well described in the “report” found in the current issue of International Labor and Working Class History, was not funded by the IHC or the Research Focus Group, the community of interest and intellect which the Focus Group had begun to crystallize here at UCSB proved important to the possibility and success of that conference. The Focus Group had but two discussion meetings during the 2002-2003 academic year, (in part because the cqnvener was busy organizing the capitalism and its culture conference) but we did co-sponsor the April 7 talk by Keith Breckenridge, University of Natal, “The Rise and Fall of the South Aftican Bureau of Proof: Total Information in the Making of Apartheid,” and we sponsored the May 15, 2003 talk by Leon Fink, University of Illinois, Chicago, whose new book, The Maya of Morganton: Work and Community in the Nuevo New South has just appeared.

We have ambitious plans for next year. At meeting held May 22 an interdisciplinary group offaculty, overlapping about 80 percent with Focus Group participants, began planning work to establish a Labor Studies program here at UCSB. This will involve, for undergraduates, construction of a core labor studies sequence, and for graduate students, a Ph.D. emphasis or certificate in Sociology, History, Chicano Studies, and perhaps other disciplines. The first step in setting up the program will take place when we hold a joint History-Sociology graduate reading seminar during fall quarter 2003, most likely led by Richard Flacks and Nelson Lichtenstein. This for-credit graduate student/faculty seminar will do the historiographical, methodological, and curricular work necessary to put the Labor Studies Program in place.

Among the outside speakers we hope to bring to the seminar and/or to the core urtdergraduate course (spring 2004) are Nancy McLean, Northwestern, who is writing a book about the post-Sixties construction of American work rights; Ruth Milkman, UCLA, director of the Institute for Labor and Employment and a noted expert on California labor; Michael Honey, Univ. of Washington, an historian oflabor and the civil rights movement; and Gordon Lafer, University of Oregon, who will talk about the dialectics of academic labor. With funds from the UC Institute for Labor and Employment we have hired a part time staffer for the nascent Labor Studies program, but programming monies are non-existent, which is why we need mc Focus Group status for the next academic year. After that we hope to have a more secure and permanent source of funding.

Calendar of Events:

Thomas Frank October 7 “Class War and Culture War”

Michael Denning October 28 “Language of Class in Global Setting”

Nancy McCleen, LA Times labor reporter, November or February

Christopher Phelps, “C.L.R. James on Race and Capitalism” January 10, 2005

Michael Honey, “Martin Luther King from Seminary to Socialism” February 4, 2005

Mike Davis, “Class in the New California, Keynote Speaker, Southwest Labor Studies Conference, May 7, 2005

Sponsorship by The Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy.