The Fifth Biennial Conference of the Center for Working Class Studies

May 16-19, 2001, Youngstown, Ohio

Working-Class Studies: Memory, Community, and Activism

Proceedings: Abstracts by Author P-Z


Cherise Pollard, West Chester University, Intimacies of Labor: The Politics of Representing Familial History in Natasha Trethewey's Domestic Work

The complicated themes of domesticity and labor resonate throughout Natasha Trethewey's poetic investigation of her familial history in her first collection of poems, Domestic Work.  This paper will explore the ways in which Trethewey's poems surface the interior lives of black southern working-class men and women from farm to factory.  By analysing the politics of representing the history of southern agrarian labor framed within the memory of black cultural and communal practices, I will argue that Trethewey's poetics invites its readers to celebrate the rhythms and textures of black working-class life.

Ruth Porritt, West Chester University, Disappointment, Debilitation and Questions of Work in the Poetry of Dorianne Laux

Dorianne Laux has worked as a gas station manager, sanatorium cook, maid, and donut holer.  My presentation focuses on two Laux poems (“The Job” and “What I Wouldn’t Do”) and examines their treatment of disappointment—the failure to satisfy an expectation or hope.  The study of thwarted desire is significant not only for understanding women’s lives but also for understanding the lives of working-class people.  I argue that by diverting deep feelings of disappointment and forestalling an attitude of bitterness, working-class women might be preventing the debilitation of agency that allows them to bring home their indispensable paychecks.  Lynne McFall’s argument that, for women, deep disappointment and its resultant bitterness should be transformed from a “vice” into an ethical “virtue” is well-taken, for bitterness can stand as evidence for the claim that a woman justifiably expected better conditions for her life and she will not rescind those expectations (Feminist Ethics, Claudia Card, ed.).  However, is McFall’s argument, in part, class-blind?  Does McFall overlook the possibility that bitterness, as a cultivated attitude, may well be a luxury or an indulgence many working-class women cannot afford?  Taken together, Laux’s two poems offer a challenge to any argument that would reclaim the “good” of disappointment and bitterness in women’s lives without offering a careful consideration of the context of working-class experience and identities. 

David L. Preston, College of William and Mary, A Poor Woman's Fight: Women Munitions Workers During the American Civil War

The histories of laborers and working-class communities during the American Civil War remain a largely unexplored area of study.  This paper explores women munitions workers' experiences at state and federal arsenals, where workers were frequently injured or maimed in explosions, fires, or other accidents.  On September 17, 1862, 78 munitions workers (mostly women) were killed, and dozens more wounded, in an explosion at the Allegheny Arsenal located near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Using the Allegheny Arsenal explosion as a "microhistory," the paper demonstrates how the Civil War was a life-defining experience for working-class families on the Northern home front.  The war was a "poor woman's fight" in which Northern working-class women shouldered many of the war's burdens and became impoverished through the hardships that they endured.  The paper also highlights relations between working-class communities, the army, and the federal government.  The survivors of the Allegheny Arsenal explosion, for example, unsuccessfully petitioned the federal government from 1863 to 1898 for relief or pensions.  Through their petitions and the building of a monument, workers challenged prevailing gendered assumptions about the value of women's labor and wartime sacrifices. 

Heather J.S. Pugh, Sussex University, “Escaping Constraints?” Contemporary Working-Class Women’s Writing in Britain

This paper attempts to reaffirm the value of contemporary writings by and of working-class women in Britain and explore the constraints of being working class, female, and a writer alongside the possibilities for escaping such constraints. Despite attempted political silencing of class divisions in Britain and lack of literary representations of female working-class identities in commercially published works, I would argue that exploration into this area is both important and complex and should be recognised as such by literary studies. I begin by looking at the formation of working-class identities and the need to redefine them, through exploring the effects of capitalism (the fragmentation and disintegration of working-class communities throughout Britain in the 1980s), class mobility, race, sexuality, and access to feminism. Through looking at the pressures and silences experienced by working-class women, I attempt to explore how these are manifested in their writings.

I move on to consider the conditions of literary production by looking at the relationship between publisher, reader, and writer, and the factors that prevent working-class women from claiming literary authority. Exploring the divisions between writing as representation of an individual and a community experience, I turn to the work produced by the ‘Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers’ looking at how and with what success they are able to bypass many of the problems faced by commercially published writers and claim authority upon their own terms.

In the final part of the paper I turn to four case studies of commercially published works in Britain, Pat Barker’s Union Street (1982), Livi Michael’s Under a Thin Moon (1992), Andrea Levy’s Never Far From Nowhere (1996) and Andrea Ashworth’s Once in a House on Fire (1999). I use the four texts to explore entrapment and ‘escape’ both in and through writing. Beginning with the latter texts I explore their focus upon individual educational ‘escapes’, which often have the affect of leaving one ‘between’ classes. Through Barker’s and Michael’s works, I explore their focus upon a growing sense of isolation, alienation, claustrophobia, and entrapment. Suggesting that ‘escape’ is a complex and multifaceted term in this context, I finally explore other ways of obliterating or transcending constraints, (such as violence, alcohol, detachment, fantasy and the process of writing itself). I end by suggesting that writing may alleviate some of the oppressions facing working-class women, challenging dominant discourses and largely male middle-class perceptions of working-class identity and femininity. Despite existing in the margins, working-class women may be able to undo the silences and create a space for themselves, their voices, language, and writing. 

Teal Rothschild, Roger Williams University, Alliances Across Gender In The Garment Trade: An Analysis of the 1885 New York City Cloakmakers Strike

The presentation seeks to introduce the 1885 New York City Cloakmakers Strike as the first time in New York City garment industry history that men and women workers organized together successfully. The strike serves as a landmark in the garment trade for its cross-gender alliances. The presentation seeks to recount the reasons for striking, the actual bargaining, and the role that gender played in ultimately uniting this group of diverse workers together. Attention will be given to the social and physical spaces that the working men and working women negotiated in, as they were separated by both gender and skill assignment as they challenged their employers for fair treatment. Although the workers were also aligning with one another across ethnicity and skill, gender proved to be the most salient boundary to overcome. This will be analyzed through attention to the perceived and actual differences of the workers from their own point of view, as well as the public at large. Despite these differences, the workers aligned with one another for the common goal of gaining more autonomy through worker control in the cloakmaking industry. 

Eric Schocket, Hampshire College, Marxism and Working-Class Studies Roundtable

Barbara Foley, Rutgers University, Newark
Laura Hapke, Pace University
Jack Metzgar, Roosevelt University
Bill Mullen, University of Texas, San Antonio
Michael Zweig, SUNY, Stoney Brook

The theme of this year’s Working-Class Studies conference prompts a crucial question:  How do communities come together in order to organize and activate for working-class causes?  How does memory—or less subjectively, history—inform our attempts to create social and economic justice in the present and the future?

Those who work within the Marxist tradition have developed a set of theories and strategies around precisely these questions.  And it seems an opportune time, given both conference’s theme and a renewed sense of social unrest across the country, to revisit these theories and strategies.

Specifically, this roundtable will address the following questions:  What is the utility of Marxism within the realm of working-class studies?  How does it comprehend class? prompt social action? engage alternate theories of change and progressivism?  What can Marxism give the still-young working-class studies movement?  What can the working-class studies movement give Marxism?  What connections can a Marxist theory help construct between academic study and praxis? 

Sylvie Green Shapero, California State University/Northridge, Fetish: A Performance Piece

When I was a little girl entering junior high, suffering, as most adolescents do, from a lack of self confidence and a strong desire to be like everyone else, I could not, for the twelve-year-old life of me, understand why I could not have a pair of Guess jeans like my classmates wore.

“But Mom,” I’d exclaim, “I don’t like Lee’s!  They don’t fit right!”

Of course they fit fine, it was the label on the back pocket that wasn’t right.

Now, as a waitress putting myself through graduate school, I deny myself of expensive clothes all the time—no explanations necessary.

I have written a performance piece entitled Fetish about my experiences as a waitress/writer.  My interest in working-class studies began when I encountered Marxist literary theory in my critical theories class, and, for once, felt like I found a form of critical writing that did not resist me; even though I agree with Virginia Woolf’s theory that women experience a “splitting off of consciousness,” not many of us are fortunate enough to have two hundred pounds and “a room of one’s own.”  And, if we do, we work far too often waiting tables in a restaurant where the owner knows nothing of his laborers except for our sales to spend the amount of time we’d like sitting in our own room writing.

Fortunately, my father, who has worked as a truck driver for the past 15 years, served in the military before taking his long-distance job, and the Base Exchange sold Guess jeans for less than the department stores did, and without the sales tax. 

Larry Smith, BGSU Firelands College & Bottom Dog Press, Writing and Publishing as Forms of Activism: A Roundtable

This workshop will follow a roundtable format. After brief introductions of who we are and what we do, we will open to dialogue about common issues and solutions to the activist act of writing  and publishing. We hope to have a representative group that will include David Shevin, Janet Zandy, and John Crawford, and others. 

Alan Harris Stein, Northwest Oral History Association, Rocking the Boat: Studs Terkel’s 20th Century

This work-in-progress takes a close look at the social progress achieved during the last century and how it was achieved, as seen through the eyes of 89-year-old oral historian Studs Terkel and nearly a dozen of his contemporaries.

For their efforts, these boat rockers have often paid a high price, yet, in the autumn of their lives, nearly all look back with deep satisfaction at what their struggles achieved.  Terkel worries that young Americans have no memory of, and are seldom taught about, the efforts it took to make their homeland more fair and inclusive.  "We suffer from a national Alzheimer's Disease," he says sadly.  "There is no memory of yesterday. Yesterday is erased."  This program, told by Terkel, in his voice, and through his eyes, seeks to offer a corrective to that condition.  Besides Terkel himself (the program's host and narrator), we meet other remarkable boat rockers, (voices not normally heard on television) including:

They tell of run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan, struggles to win economic justice and the right to organize, and what it was like to be an industrial worker during the 30s or a migrant farmworker in the 50s, a black soldier or Japanese-American during World War II, or a fighter for the environment in the age of Rachel Carson.

While told from Terkel's progressive point of view, the program will in no way be a laudatory hymn to the Left.  Mistakes (including progressive support for the WW II internment of Japanese-Americans), excesses, honest examination of the costs of boat-rocking all receive their due.  A core group of American historians will assure program accuracy. In the end, Terkel assesses how far we've come, what threats lie ahead and what still needs to be done to truly realize the American democratic dream, especially for those who can still say, as did Langston Hughes, "America never was America to me."

Terkel’s own experiences as a social activist, actor, and writer, have led him to the conclusion that all the social gains that most Americans take for granted have come because ordinary people made waves to make change.  He views the 20th century as a period in which American democratic principles were expanded, through social pressure from below, to include ever-wider circles of people who were formerly excluded: industrial workers, poor farmers, ethnic and racial minorities, women, gays and lesbians. 

Rebecca Stern, CUNY Graduate Center, The Role of Work Experience in Understanding Marx

Standpoint theory makes the claim that members of oppressed groups have privileged knowledge about the system that oppresses them. I investigated this theory with the hopes of showing the value of personal experience in the social science classroom.

I individually interviewed students from a college class on politics and power. The students told me about their personal class background and working experience and then interpreted two passages from the Communist Manifesto. I found that personal work experience, as opposed particularly to hypothetical examples, led to a more accurate—that is, traditionally accepted—understanding of certain Marxist concepts. For example, a student working in construction immediately understood the concept of exploitation through the owner taking the surplus value from the worker. In this presentation, I will describe my coding methods and my results, focusing on examples of how students used personal experience to interpret Marx. 

Lena L. Sweeten, Gray & Pape, Inc., Class and Cultural Landscapes: A Case Study of Bowling Green, Kentucky

This paper examines the contributions of workers for the L&N Railroad and the building stone industry to the cultural landscape of Bowling Green, Kentucky.  It further proposes a means for recognizing and preserving this legacy of the city’s working class.  In Bowling Green, ten of the properties that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places have a direct link to the L&N Railroad or the building stone industry, but this important aspect of their historical significance has received little emphasis.  These include a working class neighborhood, a church, and a selection of public buildings.  This paper places these properties within a broader historic context than was heretofore developed and proposes a more inclusive interpretation of their significance.  By doing so, the enduring legacy of the contributions of Bowling Green’s late nineteenth and early twentieth century working class community can be preserved, recognized, and appreciated.

From the 1870s through the 1930s, Bowling Green was a hub in a freight and passenger network that extended across the continental U.S.  The effect of the railroad’s arrival remains apparent in the city’s cultural landscape.  For example, many of the railroad construction workers were Irish immigrants who chose to settle in Bowling Green after construction of the railroad had been completed.  One of their most enduring landmarks is St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, which is located in the heart of the neighborhood founded by these workers.  Access to the railroad made possible the success of many local industries, not the least of which was the building stone industry.  Quarry owners built rail spurs connected to the L&N line, thus allowing the raw limestone to be shipped nationwide.  In addition, several local companies were established that specialized in cutting and finishing limestone architectural elements, including columns, capitals, friezes, cornices, and hood moldings. These pieces are important features of many of Bowling Green’s architecturally outstanding buildings, including the county courthouse, federal building, train depot, high school, and theater.  They are a lasting testament to the skill and craftsmanship employed by local artisans at the turn of the century. 

Carole Anne Taylor, Bates College, The Undocumented and the Undocumentable: Oral Testimony from Hispanic Overtime

This extended observation—which will never take documented form—tries to understand matters of trust and solidarity among Hispanic workers in Maine and between these workers and the community where some have become residents rather than migrant workers.  Too much interviewed by academics without long-term commitment to either individuals or the Maine Rural Workers Coalition, an organization growing out of a failed attempt to unionize, member-workers decided that I should facilitate an oral history project that would tell their stories in their own words and for the profit of the organization, should there be any.  Interested in collecting documented aspects of a personal but also a public history, the project promises much, yet leads to this exploration of what can and cannot be said and what workers do and do not want represented.  It also suggests interpersonal aspects of workers’ lives that resist representation yet “represent” resistance nonetheless. 

David Van Arsdale, Syracuse University, The Millennium's Re-emerging Casual Laborer and Skid Row

The hobo and tramp, and his living quarters - skid row - had all but disappeared until the rise of temporary labors new relationship with poor male laborers.  There are new twists to this "millennium relationship," one of the larger phenomena being that of the interdependent relationship between poor and working-class black male laborers and the temporary help supply industry.  Another new factor is that the labor is much more stationary and impacts local communities more.  Its not the migratory laborer, or hobo of the past, the new casual laborers are from communities where male homelessness, joblessness, and parole are major players in providing reserved labor pools of cheap labor. 

Jane Van Galen, University of Washington/Bothell, Class Constraints on Activist Research on Schooling

In this paper, I explore three themes regarding the limits and possibilities of recent calls for more activist forms of research on the education of the poor and working class.

First, I consider why we seem relatively untroubled that theoretical and empirical work on the education and life experiences of working class children is done almost entirely by middle-class scholars, even as we have come to be very cautious about speaking on behalf of "Others" in research on ethnicity  and in feminist research. I explore how we might solicit more first-person accounts of classism, just as we now have access to first-person accounts of sexism and racism.

Next, I consider whether framing our understanding of the work of public schools teachers within analyses of their contradictory class locations might enable us to move beyond the "blame and shame" tone of much critical scholarship on teachers and schools. Activist scholarship will require reconsideration of researchers'  intellectual and political relationships with educators who work in schools, relationships that currently are mired in unarticulated disparities in status and power between academics and teachers.

Finally, I consider the possibilities or "studying up" so that academic activism might influence schooling beyond the spheres of curriculum and pedagogy.  Critical scholarship on education acknowledges that deep structural inequalities shape the work of schools, yet activist researchers have yet to develop research agendas for understanding the broader systems of policy-making and funding beyond the immediate contexts of local schools.
In sum, the paper argues that activist research on behalf of the working class would require us to question the privileges that sustain our work while impeding our ability to know and affect social worlds beyond the academy. 

Gail G. Verdi, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Dangerous Language: Four Working-Class Women Academics Speak on Notions of Linguistic Competence and Performance

Belanoff (1993) wrote that patterns of language use - in terms of both competence and performance - reflect the gender (race) and class status of the language user and are crucially important in determining the language user's success in the academy.  Therefore, working-class women, as they enter the academy, often find that as they attempt to navigate around language and ways of knowing that are relationship-based, they also come in conflict with linguistic tensions based on working-class  (sub)cultures.  In other words, our understanding of what we know about language (competence) and what we know and do when we use language (performance) are mediated by our associations with various communities (Mayher, 1990). While past studies have focused on intersections such as class and language; women and language; and language variation and education, there are few linguistic studies based on how gender, class, race and ethnicity determine success in the academy.

This paper explores the forms of linguistic tension four working-class women academics experienced as they entered mainstream university cultures.  It also uncovers the forms of dexterity the individual women acquired in order to navigate the pitfalls they encountered.  My research evolved out of conversations with two graduate students and one full-time faculty member.  The researcher was also a participant and has included her own evolution.  During unstructured interviews significant themes emerged as the women narrated lived experiences.   Participants grew up in the New York Metropolitan area, ranging in age from forty to fifty-two, and came from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. 

Leslie T.C. Wang, University of Toledo, Defining Working Class: Perspectives Among Asian Americans

What defines working class?  Which groups make up the working class?  There had been many attempts to include a comprehensive definition based on the various responses and lived experiences among groups during a period of sensitivity and political correctness in the 1990’s.  Yet working class is still not a concept which is universally defined, and for that matter social class.  The diversity in definitions and explanations for social class are still very much based on Euro-centric and/or western models, and a failure to comprehend other models.

This paper presentation looks at how the concept of working class is defined and constructed by Asian Americans.  In this study, the data is collected through individual and focus group interviews.  Since the objective is to learn about the social construction of working class, qualitative research will allow for the richness and descriptiveness through individual voices.  The data will support the following:  First, Asian American groups define social class differently, and so do members of the same ethnic group based on different lifestyles and life chances.  Second, family and familial ties play more of a role in Asian American lives and experiences.  Third, the notion of the working class is perceived in a different light, possibly more favorably.  Fourth, socio-economic status as a means to understand social class lacks both relevance and practicality, because the variables are actually relatively distinct.

The aim of this presentation is not necessarily to provide a comparison and contrast dichotomy in our knowledge, interest, and appreciation of the working-class concept between Asian Americans and the dominant culture, but to clarify misunderstandings and misrepresentations and to further our research. 

Paul Watt, Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College/England, Public Housing and the Changing Nature of Working-Class Politics in Britain

This paper addresses the role of public housing provision in the development of working-class politics in Britain, particularly within London. The development of the Labour Party in the early part of the 20th century did not occur in a geographically even fashion across the British social landscape, but was instead affected by locally specific configurations of class relations. A number of researchers have pointed to the important role played by the provision of public housing for rent by local government in assisting the growth of the Labour Party in particular areas of Britain, not least in London as a result of the efforts of the London County Council and the metropolitan borough councils. It is argued by the author that this process took place via the heightening of working-class identity among public sector tenants in an ‘us and them’ dialectic. During the post-war period, public housing tenants have continued to provide a key foundation of support for the Labour Party in urban areas. However, it is argued that the basis of this support in London, connected as it has been with a shared working-class identity, is potentially under threat both from demographic changes within public housing as well as from ideological and policy shifts within what is now termed ‘New’ Labour. Evidence from the inner London Borough of Camden is drawn upon to illustrate these themes. The paper concludes by discussing the potential electoral significance that such social and political changes might have for the Labour Party in the forthcoming general election. 

Helena Worthen, University of Illinois/Chicago Labor Education Program, The Language of Privilege: How it Captures and Holds Power

Some pronouncements – for example, Margaret Thatcher’s famous “There is no such thing as society”-- are so remarkable in the way they capture and hold power that they appear at first to be unanswerable.

The material for this session comes from a two-year project of tracking the implementation of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (welfare reform). These two major pieces of legislation have knocked our social welfare system off its foundations and handed its control over to employers and other representatives of the ruling class, whose representations of the processes they are overseeing have much in common with Thatcher’s offhand remark.

I will bring to this session a range of examples, some taken down verbatim from public meetings, others from written materials, and engage session participants in an analysis of them.  We will ask: How does this kind of speech work? What kind of authority (moral, legal, patriotic, religious, expert, etc.) does it claim? Are all discourses of privilege the same? To what is this kind of speech answerable?  What opposes it, and how? 

Janet Zandy, Rochester Institute of Technology, Anthologizing Working-Class Literature

All of the participants in this roundtable have been involved as editors in the process of defining, selecting, and arranging working-class literature in published collections.  This roundtable offers discussions of the choices , difficulties, rewards, and complexities of the process of anthologizing working-class writings.  Also,  panelists will comment on including working-class writing in the curriculum as a catalyst to raising critical questions about cultural formation, wealth inequalities, and labor struggles.

John Crawford, University of New Mexico, publisher and editor of West End Press will address two concerns raised by anthologizing working-class writing:  the contents of such an anthology and the audience it will engage.

Larry Smith, Firelands College, publisher and editor of Bottom Dog Press will discuss the problem of audience as well.   How do we reach and develop an audience for working-class writing?  Also, how does the camaraderie of contributors to contemporary working-class writing collections help to generate a receptive audience?  His most recent edited collection is Our Working Lives:  Short Stories of People and Work.

Paul Lauter, Trinity College, co-editor of Literature, Class, and Culture will discuss the tensions that exists between a focus on “class” as such, and a focus on “working class,” especially in teaching predominately non working-class students.  He will explore the material conditions of producing and using anthologies of working-class literature, as well as institutional and publishing contexts and conditions.

Nicholas Coles, University of Pittsburgh, and Janet Zandy, Rochester Institute of Technology, will discuss the complexities of definition, selection, and sequencing American working-class literature for an anthology to be published by Oxford University Press. 

Janet Zandy, Rochester Institute of Technology, Ghosted Workers: Who Speaks for Deindustrialized Workers and How?

The jobs of millions of workers have ended because of deindustrialization, mergers, automation and corporate cost cutting.  These jobs were not “lost” or misplaced; they were cut and severed.  Within this context of closings, this paper examines textual and visual representations of this purported “ghosted” space.  This space emerges from within two separate, existing structures:  one is the structure of corporations, of buyouts and mergers, of outsourcing and automation, the other is the structure of experience and feeling, to use Raymond Williams’s terms, the everyday experiences of workers rising to go to work, of facing the job, of sustaining relationships, of the anticipation of payday, of all the rhythms of work in a complex, textured way.  This presentation asks what happens when the structure of work is abruptly taken away, when the plant closes, the mill is razed, and all that’s left are the ghosts of the women and men who worked there and their machines and tools.  How do these workers carry on?  Who hears their voices and bears witness to their lived experiences?  In other words, the space that is created when the plant closes is not emptied space.  Left behind are living, breathing human beings, not ghosts or specters.  “The worker is out of the picture now” says former furniture maker Robert Riley (Closing 138).  This presentation examines several books that attempt to put workers back into the picture, visually and textually, although, unfortunately, not back on the job.

Noting the textual and photographic history of documenting the absence of work, this presentation examines the representations of workers facing no work in Michael Frisch and Milton Rogovin’s Portraits in Steel (1993, Buffalo, NY), in Cathy Davidson and Bill Bamberger’s Closing:  The Death of an American Factory (1998, Mebane, North Carolina), in Chatterley, Rouverol, and Cole’s I Was Content and Not Content:  The Story of Linda Lord and the Closing of Penobscot Poultry (2000, Belfast, Maine) in relation to the poetry and images in worker-writer Sue Doro’s Blue Collar Goodbyes (1992, Milwaukee, WI.).  With particular attention to workers’ subjectivities and voices, I question how these important books resist, mediate, mute, or meliorate the ghosting of workers.  While the workers so represented cannot easily attend academic conferences, and while it is true that their jobs will not return, their identities as workers, of the particular skills they still own, have not ended.  This talk is intended to ask critical questions about how texts represent workers who face no work.  How much space do the authors create for workers to represent themselves, indeed, to resist their own ghosting? 

Tom Zaniello, Northern Kentucky University, Agit Prop and Labor Doc: Organizing and Mobilizing through Film

I would like to offer a history and analysis of the relationship between a very specific form of labor documentary--the agitational-propaganda film known as "agit-prop"--and its relationship to specific political moments up to and including the present era.  Many labor documentaries endeavor to influence viewers about their subject matter, but agit-prop films are specifically designed to organize workers or mobilize community support and boycotts or expose an injustice.  Agit-prop films differ from various kinds of labor documentaries such as 1) traditional labor history films, 2) non-traditional or post-modern films, and 3) TV documentaries in that they do not attempt to 1) take the "long view" of history or 2) deliberately challenge the form of the documentary itself or 3) offer a balanced journalistic report.
 I will show clips from rarely seen examples of agit-prop films, explain their differences from labor documentaries, assess some of their successes and failures, and argue for a continuity of the tradition.  The latter is of special importance, since these films have an even shorter shelf life than standard documentaries and are rarely shown after their initial run.  The following films will most likely be used in my presentation:

"Native Land," 1942: unusual agit-prop/mock-doc on civil liberties violations.
"Harvest of Shame," 1960: TV documentary with agit-prop punch.
"Wrath of Grapes," 1986: grape boycott film suppressed by the courts.
"Deadly Corn," 1994: strike of Staley sugarworkers.jinxed Decator, Illinois,
"Chaos," 1994: flight attendants unveil a radical strike strategy
"One Day Longer," 2000: Las Vegas hotel and restaurant workers celebrate end of the longest strike in U.S. history.  

Ann Ziebarth, University of Minnesota, Housing and the Company Town

Company towns have a long history in Minnesota. From the north woods lumber camps at the turn of the century to the development of Silver Bay in the 1950’s employers have been directly involved in providing housing for their workers. Today, facing difficulty attracting lower-wage workers employers are again turning to housing as a means of recruiting and maintaining a sufficient labor force. Unlike early days when the companies built, owned, and managed the housing, the company town of today is less obvious. Employers now use “arms length” donations to non-profit organizations, the establishment of private foundations, and participation in partnerships with local governments as a means of influencing the development of affordable working class housing. This presentation provides an overview of housing in company towns. A typology of employer assisted housing along a continuum from company built communities to mortgage down-payment assistance programs is presented. Examples from Minnesota communities are used to illustrate the typology.  By looking at the history of company towns as well as examining the new employer-assisted housing efforts the impacts of employers’ involvement on housing for workers, their families, and working class communities are highlighted. Finally, the alternative of union assistance in housing provision is discussed using historic examples of direct housing provision and contemporary efforts at negotiating housing benefits in union contracts. 

Michael Zweig, SUNY Stony Brook, The Relevance of Marx in Class Studies

Class is a central feature of social relations.  One can no more understand society without Marx than one can understand the mind without Freud, the physical world without Einstein, the natural world without Darwin.  As with these other great thinkers, not everything Marx said was correct, nor was Marx's own work comprehensive.  But Marx's contributions to analytic method and his basic insights into the accumulation of capital and the connections among economics, politics, culture, and history must be the starting point for social investigation.  Following in that tradition requires above all keeping the world, rather than theory, as our point of reference.  Marx's contributions to class studies will be manifest in our ability to develop the Marxist framework to understand and guide the lived experience of class.