According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of U.S. workers involved in work stoppages in 2018 reached its highest point since the mid-1980s. The resurgence of the use of strikes and worker activists withholding labor is set against the backdrop of enormous societal challenges like wealth and income inequality, climate change, and a lack of affordable, quality health care.
These powerful strikes also come at a time when unions themselves are facing innumerable challenges: declining memberships and dues, increasing employer offensives, a weakening of the labor law, and a changing economy that makes traditional methods of union organizing more difficult, costly and less successful.
We know that unions raise the standard of working conditions and wages for all workers, strengthen the overall economy and decrease inequality. Since the 1970s, the labor movement has seen a significant decline in strength, density and strikes - one of their key sources of leverage and expressions of power. Consequently, the decline of union density in the past forty years has coincided with and contributed to a modern economy that doesn’t work for working people.
This class is an exploration of the political expression of labor unions and seeks to provide students with practical skills to participate in the current labor movement. The class will tell the story of the U.S. labor movement and seek to examine the ways in which unions have driven social change. Furthermore, the class will analyze what conditions were necessary to successfully ignite change and seek to apply those learnings to the current labor movement and political work of unions.
With an emphasis on developing both knowledge of unions and their relationship to political change and practical skills in labor movement advocacy, this course will provide an overview of the history, recent trends, and current topics as well as provide students with a working knowledge of organizing and advocacy skills.