HC431H - Labor Organizing and the Struggle for Justice at Work

Professor: Gordon Lafer

4.00 credits

CRN 16616: Tuesday & Thursday, 12:00-1:20pm @ GSH 103

This is an interdisciplinary course that will ask students to examine the dynamics of power relations in the workplace and introduce them to labor organizing.  We will discuss the difference between activism and organizing, understanding unions as mass organizations that don’t choose their own members and that have to build a consensus for collective action among a large body of workers comprised of diverse ethnic, linguistic, gender and ideological identities. Students will be challenged to think about the meaning of leadership, courage, solidarity, fear, “selling out,” and individual  versus group loyalties in this context.  We will also address the question of the tensions between democracy and power in collective organizations.  Part of the course will focus on the concrete skills and strategies of workplace organizing, including identifying leaders, building a democratic organizing structure, addressing workers’ fear of being fired, getting people to come to meetings, building trust among workers who are divided at work and by other identities, and planning a timetable of activities that builds up employees’ ability to negotiate agreements with their employer.  Other parts will focus on more intellectual and theoretical issues, including the pros and cons of charismatic leadership, the power and limits of digital media, the question of whether organizing should be a well-paid profession or a voluntary calling, the debate over whether organizing strategies need to be different for different ethnic, racial, gender or immigration groups, and the comparative value of organic protest movements versus institutionalized labor organizations.