Coming in October: North American Labor History Conference

DETROIT — Started in 1979, Detroit’s annual North American Labor History Conference (NALHC) has continuously brought pressing issues faced by the worldwide working class to the front of academic scholarship. Sponsored by the Wayne State Department of History, the Walter P. Reuther Library, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Wayne State University, the conference creates an atmosphere for scholars, workers and unionists to come together and discuss the roles and purpose of the modern-day working class.

This year’s theme “The nature of work,” highlights topics including “work in the ‘new’ economy” and “outlawed immigrant workers in Detroit.” The concept of “The nature of work” presents work as a function and a process of living.

The two keynote speeches are: Walter Hixon on “Incorporating the Native World into US Historiography” and Charles Kernighan on “Fighting to End Sweatshops in the Global Economy.” The conference is being held at Wayne State University from Thursday, October 16th until Saturday, the 18th.

Scholars such as Ron Aronson and Jason Dawsey will discuss Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man concept of a totalitarian capitalist society. Community activists Sagario Valencia and Brenda Jacinto along with union organizer Marisela Ronquio will talk about immigrants living within “the belly of the beast” that is Detroit. There will be a special presentation by author Miriam Frank on her book “Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America” with exclusive commentary by UAW activist and organizer Martha Grevatt and Michigan State University professor Tim Retzloff.

Special events include a tour of the historic Detroit Institute of Arts, which houses the famous Diego Rivera murals on Detroit industry, and a tour of the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs, the largest labor archives in North America and home to the collections of numerous unions and labor-related organizations.

The conference program is available from their website, along with information on additional book talks and special sessions, registration – there are reduced rates for Students/Part-Time Faculty/General Public– and archived programs from past years in the form of downloadable PDFs.

The conference is one of Detroit’s staple attempts to explore the work conditions and lives of the working class, the history of the labor movement, and the impact of labor around the world.

Joshua Morris was a presenter at the 2011 NALHC:

I was given the opportunity to speak at this conference on my study of the Communist Party USA’s work in labor unions during the 1930s, as part of a comparison to struggles we see around us today. My research emphasized the importance of re-evaluating the level of integration and support the CPUSA gave to working Americans, as opposed to a narrow view of the party as an organization supporting foreign powers.

As surveyors and supporters of labor, it is our duty to support and champion efforts such as the NALHC’s for their desire to continue to shed light on the importance of labor within historical and sociological fields.

Photo: Low resolution, fair use image of Detroit Industry, North Wall, 1932-33, fresco by Diego Rivera. Detroit Institute of Arts.