Watch the Working Democracy Conference

On Friday, April 25, the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies welcomed activists, labor leaders, scholars, and journalists to the conference Working Democracy: Labor and Politics in an Era of Inequality.

Nearly 200 people joined us over the course of the day to discuss how major shifts in the U.S. economy have led to increased economic inequality, and how workers are adjusting and fighting back.

Miss the event? Thanks to civic affairs channel TVW, the conference sessions are streaming and available to watch on-line.

» Beyond the Minimum Wage: What Can Government Do?

Featuring George Lovell (Harry Bridges Chair in Labor Studies), Teresa Mosqueda (WA State Labor Council), Matias Valenzuela (King County Equity & Social Justice), and Sage Wilson (Working Washington).

» Building Alliances Across Movements

Featuring Michael Honey (UW-Tacoma), Kim Voss (Univ. of CA/Berkeley), Rich Stolz (OneAmerica), Dean McGrath (ILWU), Katherine Venables (UW USAS), & Mark McDermott (labor educator).

» Redefining Worker Power

Featuring Michael McCann (UW Political Science), Carolyn Pinedo-Turnovsky (UW American Ethnic Studies), Maria Francisca Torres (ROC United), Dawn Gearhart (Teamsters Local 117), Jonathan Rosenblum (Working Washington), Hilary Stern (Casa Latina), and Stephen Price (15Now/Socialist Alternative).

» Precarious Employment: Inequality and Workplace Disempowerment

Featuring Daniel Jacoby (UW-Bothell), Rebecca Smith (Nat'l Employment Law Proj), Stephen Bezruchka (UW), Daniyal Zuberi (Univ of Toronto), Larry Cushnie (Adjuncts & Contingents Together), others.

» Giving Workers Voice: The Politics of Inequality

Featuring Rebecca Thorpe (UW Political Science)), David Cay Johnston (journalist), Ruth Milkman (City University of NY), Larry Brown (IAM District 751), and Mark Smith (UW Political Science).

Additional footage of the conference is forthcoming from the Seattle Channel. Keep checking the Working Democracy website for updates!

Working Democracy Conference: Speaker Bios

The Working Democracy conference will bring together over twenty national experts, labor and community leaders, and Seattle area scholars to discuss the rising economic inequality that is driving today's headlines. Leading scholars from California, New York, and Toronto will join us, as will local leaders of the organizations that are making waves.

To view profiles of the conference panelists, click "Read More" below.

Click here to download the speaker bios as a PDF.

Working Democracy Conference: Schedule

The Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies is proud to announce the final schedule for our upcoming conference, Working Democracy: Labor and Politics in an Era of Inequality, to be held Friday, April 25, 2014 from 1:00pm-9:00pm. The full event will take place in Room 250 of the Student Union Building (HUB) on the University of Washington's Seattle campus.

Click here to download the schedule as a PDF.

 

1:00-2:30               BEYOND THE MINIMUM WAGE:  WHAT CAN GOVERNMENT DO?

Moderator: George Lovell - Harry Bridges Chair in Labor Studies and Professor, Political Science, University of Washington

  • Teresa Mosqueda- Government Affairs Director, Washington State Labor Council AFL-CIO
  • Matias Valenzuela – Manager, King County Equity and Social Justice
  • David Rolf – President, SEIU 775

 

2:45-4:00               BUILDING ALLIANCES ACROSS MOVEMENTS

Moderator: Michael Honey - Professor, Labor and Ethnic Studies and American History, University of Washington – Tacoma

  • Kim Voss – Professor of Sociology, University of California - Berkeley
  • Rich Stolz – Executive Director, OneAmerica
  • Dean McGrath – President, Interntional Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 23
  • Katherine Venables – United Students Against Sweatshops, University of Washington
  • Mark McDermott – Labor Educator

 

4:15-5:30               REDEFINING WORKER POWER  

Moderator: To be announced

  • Carolyn Pinedo-Turnovsky – Assistant Professor, American Ethnic Studies and Law, Societies & Justice, University of Washington
  • Dawn Gearhart – Business Representative, Teamsters Local 117
  • Maria Francisca Torres – ROC United
  • Jonathan Rosenblum – Working Washington
  • Hilary Stern – Executive Director, Casa Latina
  • Stephen Price – 15Now/Socialist Alternative

 

5:30-6:30               Break for dinner. Dining options available in HUB Food Court.

 

6:30-7:45               PRECARIOUS EMPLOYMENT: INEQUALITY AND WORKPLACE DISEMPOWERMENT

Moderator: Daniel Jacoby – Professor, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington – Bothell

  • Rebecca Smith – Deputy Director, National Employment Law Project
  • Stephen Bezruchka – Senior Lecturer, Global Health, University of Washington
  • Daniyal Zuberi – Associate Professor of Social Policy, University of Toronto
  • Larry Cushnie – Adjuncts & Contingents Together
  • Workers from Casa Latina, OurWalmart, Western Washington Taxicab Operators Association, and more

 

8:00-9:15               GIVING WORKERS VOICE: THE POLITICS OF COMBATING INEQUALITY  

Moderator: Rebecca U. Thorpe – Assistant Professor, Political Science, University of Washington

  • David Cay Johnston – Journalist
  • Ruth Milkman - Professor of Sociology, City University of New York
  • Larry Brown – Legislative Director, International Association of Machinists, District 751
  • Mark Smith – Professor, Political Science, University of Washington

Suggested Readings By Conference Participants: Stephen Bezruchka, University of Washington

This post continues a series introducing the national scholars participating in the Working Democracy conference.

David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist and AuthorStephen Bezruchka. University of Washington.

A scholar of global health with 35 years of experience in clinical medicine, Stephen Bezruchka's work is devoted to untangling the socioeconomic factors behind healthcare disparities.

Among his recent works touching on inequality in the United States is a recent essay appearing in Daniel Cay Johnston's 2013 collection Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality. Earlier this month, The Boston Review excerpted Bezruchka's essay "Inequality Kills."

In "Inequality Kills," Bezruchka writes:

There is growing evidence that the factor most responsible for the relatively poor health in the United States is the vast and rising inequality in wealth and income that we not only tolerate, but resist changing. Inequality is the central element, the upstream cause of the social disadvantage described in the IOM report. A political system that fosters inequality limits the attainment of health.

Bezruchka advocates for responses to inequality as part of The Population Health Forum, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and initiating dialogue about the ways in which political, economic, and social inequalities interact to affect the overall health status of our society.

Suggested Readings By Conference Participants: David Cay Johnston, Journalist and Author

This post continues a series introducing the national scholars participating in the Working Democracy conference.

David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist and AuthorDavid Cay Johnston. Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist and Author.

Perfectly Legal:  The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System and Benefit the Rich

The Fine Print:  How Big Companies Use “Plain English” to Rob You Blind   

Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality      

Johnston won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on tax policy for the New York Times.  His books build on his deep and detailed understanding of the way large companies and wealthy individuals are able to rig the system, often by lobbying for obscure technical provisions in laws that accumulate to give them huge advantages.  Johnston's work illuminates small technical details that are designed to go unnoticed, and provides a disturbing and often infuriating picture of the way power is exercised in American society and politics.   Divided is a brand new edited volume where Johnston recruited more than 30 economists, journalists, scholars, and political figures to write short essays about the damage caused by rising inequality in the US.

Suggested Readings By Conference Participants: Kim Voss, University of CA - Berkeley

This post continues a series introducing the national scholars participating in the Working Democracy conference.

Kim Voss, University of CA - BerkeleyKim Voss.  University of California - Berkeley.

Voss, like Ruth Milkman, is a prolific writer whose broad historical understanding informs sharp analysis of current issues of work, immigration, educational equity, and related social movement activity.

 

 

 

The Making of American ExceptionalismThe Making of American Exceptionalism: The Knights of Labor and Class Formation in the Nineteenth Century.

Her book on the Knights of Labor focuses on events in the 19th century that have considerable resonance today.  Voss argues that organized labor in the U.S. was shaped at early stages by powerful employer opposition to class based organizing and by the ideological commitments that shaped how workers labor interpreted the failure of early organizing efforts. 

Rallying for Immigrant RightsRallying for Immigrant Rights: The Fight for Inclusion in 21st Century America.

Rallying for Immigrant Rights is an edited volume where an interdisciplinary group of scholars take a comprehensive look at the immigrant protest movement of 2006, the largest wage of mass movement organizing since the Civil Rights Era.

Voss also writes provocatively about the dilemmas facing the contemporary American labor movement in Hard Work (co-authored book with Rick Fantasia) and Rebuilding Labor, coedited with Ruth Milkman.

Suggested Readings By Conference Participants: Ruth Milkman, CUNY

This post continues a series introducing the national scholars participating in the Working Democracy conference.

Ruth Milkman, CUNYRuth Milkman.  CUNY Graduate Center and Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.

Milkman is a prolific writer on a broad range of topics related to work and power in the United States.  It is a challenge to pick a few representative items for posting here.  Her website includes information on many other books as well as links to articles and reports. 

 

LA StoryLA Story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the US Labor Movement.

Working for JusticeWorking for Justice: The LA Model of Organizing and Advocacy.

LA Story and Working for Justice both focus on novel organizing campaigns in Los Angeles involving low wage and immigrant workers.  LA Story is the story of the Justice for Janitors campaign, placing that struggle in the broad context of LA’s labor history and providing a careful analysis of the conditions that led to success.  Working for Justice, an edited volume featuring work from several other authors, looks more broadly at novel organizing strategies in Los Angeles and considers the conditions under which they might be adopted elsewhere. 

New Labor in New YorkNew Labor in New York: Precarious Workers and the Future of the Labor Movement.

New Labor in New York, a brand new book on organized labor in the Big Apple, shows Milkman’s ongoing interest in capturing how organizing campaigns grow out of local conditions.  Prof. Milkman’s attention to local conditions reflects the realization that there is no single organizing formula or political strategy that can work everywhere.  Yet her analyses help to draw out general lessons emerge from local successes and failures. 

Broken Laws, Unprotected WorkersBroken Laws, Unprotected Workers: Violations of Employment and Labor Laws in America’s Cities.

Broken Laws, Broken Workers is a research report (available on the web) from a team that conducted a large survey of lawbreaking by employers in America’s three largest cities. The report documents the shocking degree to which basic laws protecting workers have failed to protect low wage workers, and reveals that a wide range of employers engage in systematic lawbreaking. This important study helped to spark numerous subsequent studies in other places that have echoed its findings.

Suggested Readings By Conference Participants: Daniyal Zuberi, University of Toronto

The Working Democracy conference will consist of themed panels that include some national academic experts, local community and labor leaders, and rank and file workers.  The outside experts who will be participating have written a variety of books that address themes of the conference.

This post begins a series of posts that introduce the outside experts by giving some information on recent books related to conference themes.  I begin here with Daniyal Zuberi.  Subsequent posts will cover Ruth Milkman, Kim Voss, and David Cay Johnston.

Daniyal Zuberi, University of TorontoDaniyal Zuberi.  University of Toronto.

Daniyal Zuberi’s books address pressing problems in a way that is powerful and accessible.  Zuberi gives voice to a large number of workers, who describe eloquently and in their own words their struggles with workplace and societal conditions.

By comparing the US to similar countries, Zuberi shows that problems in the US are not the inevitable result of external factors like globalization, but instead the result of policy choices made by our government.  

Differences that MatterDifferences that Matter:  Social Policy and the Working Poor in the United States and Canada.

Differences that Matter compares the experiences of immigrant hotel workers in Seattle and Vancouver.  The comparative analysis shows how Canada’s much broader and more cost effective social policies (including health care, social welfare, and meaningful legal protection for the right to organize) make an enormous difference in the lives of the working poor.

Cleaning UpCleaning Up:  Why Hospital Outsourcing is Hurting Workers and Endangering Patients.

Cleaning Up documents the damage done when hospitals cut costs by outsourcing work like cleaning and food preparation to private contractors.  The book shows how these practices put patients at increased risk of major illness and death and expose low-wage workers to illness and risk of injury.   The book again uses comparative analysis, covering the US, Canada, and Europe.  The book shows powerfully how the broadening practice of outsourcing jobs to subcontractors helps to isolate American workers, keeps them constantly at risk, and thus makes it very difficult to exercise collective power. 

Working Democracy Conference: Speakers

We are proud to announce new details for our upcoming conference, Working Democracy: Labor and Politics in an Era of Inequality. As of March 14, the following participants have been confirmed.

  • Stephen Bezruchka, Senior Lecturer, Global Health, University of Washington
  • Larry Brown, Legislative Director, IAM District 751
  • Casa Latina Worker's Council
  • Dawn Gearhart, Business Representative, Teamsters Local 117
  • Michael Honey, Professor, Labor and Ethnic Studies and American History, University of Washington - Tacoma
  • Daniel Jacoby, Professor, Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, University of Washington - Bothell
  • David Cay Johnston, investigative journalist and author, specialist in economics and tax issues
  • Teresa Mosqueda, Government Affairs Director, Washington State Labor Council
  • Carolyn Pinedo-Turnovsky, Assistant Professor, American Ethnic Studies/Law, Societies & Justice, University of Washington
  • David Rolf, President, SEIU 775
  • Mark McDermott, Labor Educator
  • Ruth Milkman, Professor of Sociology, City University of New York
  • Mark Smith, Professor of Political Science, University of Washington
  • Rebecca Smith, Deputy Director, National Employment Law Project
  • Rich Stolz, Executive Director, OneAmerica
  • Kim Voss, Professor of Sociology, University of California - Berkeley
  • Daniyal Zuberi, Associate Professor of Social Policy, University of Toronto

More names and a full schedule, including panel titles and times, will be announced in the coming weeks. Please keep checking this site for further updates.

 

Worker Power and the Problem of Federalism in the 21st Century

Spiral staircaseI wrote earlier that attention should be given to the Constitution when trying to understand the problems of inequality and failed democracy in the US.  This post focuses on federalism as an example. 

Federal systems, where power is shared among central and regional governments, exist in different forms in many places in the world, and can create important advantages.  In the US, Federalism is a core principle:  The Constitution creates a federal government and limits some state powers, but the states retain independent powers that do not come from the Constitution.

The system of federalism and related problem of Senate malappointment have become crucial factors driving high levels of inequality and the breakdown of democratic accountability.  For example, the recent fight over locating the 777x was driven by the power of state governments to make competing offers of public subsidies to single corporations.  Such competition is not possible in most federal systems, but in the US, it often fuels a race to the bottom.  In this case, Boeing was able to extract billions of dollars in tax exemptions and other subsidies from Washington’s legislature, and then use those competing state offers to coerce its highly skilled machinists to accept changes in an existing contract.  The result, most fundamentally, is a massive redistribution of wealth.  The winners were the executives and investors of one very profitable company; the losers were Boeing’s highly skilled and very productive workers and, more generally, the people and remaining businesses of Washington who bear the burden of the higher taxes and reduced services that inevitably results from Boeing’s power to hoard $8.7 billion from the state treasury. 

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