The Seventh Biennial Conference of the Center for Working Class Studies

May 18-21, 2005, Youngstown, Ohio

New Working-Class Studies: Past, Present, and Future

Proceedings: Abstracts by Author H-O


Paul Hancock, Green Mountain College, The Political Economy of Farm Work: Stocking the Migrant Labor Stream 

The premise of this work is that the system of farm labor migration from the periphery to the core, lasting for more than 60 years can only be properly understood by examining the whole of the institutional apparatus that has been constructed to perpetuate this process. This is an effort to expand the scope of studies into the forces that have shaped the phenomenon of the farm worker migrant stream to include complementary and inter-institutional factors.

Economic forces are but one set of factors that explain the existence of a system of supplying labor from the developing to the developed economies. To understand the system of labor migration we have to examine the institutional apparatus perpetuating the conditions that promote migration. These institutional apparatus have developed and changed with circumstances for one historical epoch to another.

The first part of this paper examines some of the history of these government and corporate practices and the nature of the cultural, social and economic conditions within which they operated. The major focus is on the example of Jamaican migrant farm workers without presupposing a model extending to other immigrant and nonimmigrant flows. The implication is, however, that similar histories have undoubtedly unfolded throughout the colonial, neo-colonial and modern period. The paper then turns to a discussion of Wallersteins theory and its adaptation to the study of migrant farm labor. Lastly, I discuss two elements of what would be parts of a broader focus for the study of the migrant farm worker system.

Patricia M. Hauschildt, Youngstown State University, Literacy for Working-Class Teachers and Students: A Dialogue with Patrick Finn 

In my role as a teacher educator, I have found that readings, questions, assignments, and/or discussions about race and gender often raise resistant attitudes and comments, from mildly argumentative to blatant racist or misogynist. I remain calm but firm in stating that as future teachers, we are morally and ethically bound to teaching all children, which includes every type of diversity and learning difference. I have tried a variety of readings and assignments with varying degrees of success. However, since I have included Patrick Finns Literacy with an Attitude: Educating Working-Class Children in Their Own Self-Interest (SUNY Press) in a Reading in the Content Area course, my students first identify with the inequity and discrimination evident in their own life experience as classed. The safety of talk about social class experiences seems to free students to then themselves raise all other forms of discrimination, and, subsequently how teachers can understand school discrimination based on class. One student writes: This book opened my eyes to the challenges culture presents in a school. Another states: I learned that social class has a lot to do with reading and class behavior. Working-class teachers tend to stress students behavior and education for jobs/careers.  What we as teachers in a working-class environment must do is stress education as a virtue in and of itself.  Finally: I have learned that class plays a huge role when it comes to opportunities available to students. I am still struggling with the reality that teaching is largely affected by a teachers background and students backgrounds. Reading Finn has prepared me to be as objective as I can possibly be.

The conference session is a dialogue between YSU teacher candidates and Patrick Finn to raise personal and complex questions about teaching and working-class.

Stephen Haven, Ashland University, Poetry Reading:  The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestacks

I will read from my collection of poems, The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestacks.  The geographic heart of the book is the Mohawk Valley, the Mohawk River, and the mill town, Amsterdam, New York, where I grew up.  The town was dominated by old textile factories beginning to shut down.  My distributors description of the book is as follows:  Along with the trails through the industrial wilderness, the river, the bars, and the young poets preparations for escape, we see his preacher father and the family life that finally yields him up. Later the poet pauses to treat another kind of New England background, the "Puritan graveyard" of the seventeenth century, imaginatively recreating the distant ghosts that still enter his thoughts in Provincetown at the Millennium.  Finally, in the section "Homework," his thoughts return to his birthplace, as he seeks to reconcile his memories of home with his departure and survival. 

A brief review, in The Amherst Review, describes the books as follows: Havens book of poetry is thick with place. He works from the landscape of his ancestors, who landed on Cape Cod in the 1600s, and the landscape of his boyhood, spent in the dying mill towns of New Yorks Mohawk Valley. His language is agile and moodily elegant, but this lyricism belies the emotional desolation of his subjects. A fight between brothers, the inscrutability of a river, a girls premature motherhoodhe handles these scenes without sentimentality, and still they speak of ruin.

Karen Hebert, University of Michigan, Contradictions of Consolidation:  Work, Social Organization, and Fishery Restructuring in Bristol Bay, Alaska

Over twenty years ago, a study of commercial fishing in Bristol Bay, Alaska, deemed it "an occupation in transition":  fishing was becoming a calculated economic pursuit rather than a "way of life," it was claimed, and "traditional" features of fleet social organization were eroding.  My recent research on the struggling salmon industry in southwest Alaska suggests that this so-called transition never fully materialized.  Moreover, as this paper examines, fishers' present efforts to develop and debate industry restructuring plans are deeply informed by the very conceptions of work and belonging that scholars of the 1980's dismissed as obsolete.  In a current industry climate marked by sweeping transitions of its own-increasing foreign competition, growing corporate retraction, shrinking profits, and great pressure by state officials and industry analysts to "consolidate," or downsize, the fishing workforce-labor itself has become a site fraught with contradiction, representing both sources of fisher independence and industry competitiveness as well as their undoing.  Through an exploration of the contradictions underlying fishing work and social solidarity in contemporary Bristol Bay, the paper suggests that labor-in-transition often involves the recuperation, reanimation, and reimagination of longstanding practices and identities as much as their abandonment or creation anew.

Sherry Holland, Wayne State University, Good Girls Dont but I Do: Class, Race, Gender, Education, Work, and Femininity

This presentation will examine the complex and multiple identities of a group of white working class high school girls in the Detroit-Metro Detroit area. Why study these girls/young women and their lives? White working-class girls and women have been almost invisible within the discourses of class, race, gender, reproduction, and resistance.  Also, within the context of globalization these girls and women as workers will be performing a large majority of the worlds work. Yet, the complexities of their lives have been ignored both in a local and/or the global context. 

Feminist and Marxist have contributed very little to the understanding of the complex multiple identities of these womens lived lives. Why have white working class women been ignored and under-theorized by the very groups who purport to be advocates of the working class and women? Working class, youth culture, and work culture are read as masculine in most current literature. How can this be changed, what needs to be done, what type of research?

What I will present for the conference is a paper based on a narrative of a group of suburban working class girls in the 1980s attending high school in a gentrifying working class suburb of Detroit.  Throughout the early 80s several riots occurred at the high school we will call Rust Belt High.  These riots involved two social categories at the high school the Burnouts and Jocks.  The definitions of these categories Burnout correlate to the working class students at the school and Jock refer to the interloping middle class students entering the school at this time.

This presentation will explore how the girls rather than passive supporters of the boys rebellion in these riots were instead active participants and in many activities initiators of the confrontational behavior.  Issues explored are: agency, subjectivity, identity, reproduction, and resistance, economic restructuring, and oppositional femininity.

William M. Hunter, Heberling Associates, The Unmaking of the Pennsylvania Working Class: Landscape and Memory in the Juniata Valley

Central Pennsylvania is one of America's early industrial heartlands. Capital and material drawn from this region fed the development of America's first fully integrated steel complex; Ironmasters developed techniques and processes in the dispersed iron plantations of the Juniata Valley before applying them to the concentration of large-scale industry in Johnstown. Yet, with the flight of capital and de-industrialization, the working-class heritage on which the history of the Juniata region rests continues to fade from public memory. The material and social contributions of the working-class steadily erode while capital's capstone features, created of durable materials and well maintained, endure and serve to structure a selective sense of place and identity. The celebration of elite history and preservation of high style artifacts reinforce pastoral geographic images, first constructed by Pennsylvania Railroad travel literature und then propagated by popular landscape painting. Area residents now popularly perceive the Juniata Valley as country, the construction of the rural identity crippling the capacity for the working class to recognize itself, much less to organize. This paper chronicles the extraction of value from the labor and resources of the region, the disintegration of the iron industry, the rise of the steel complex and the erasure or the industrial working class from the landscape. We examine in particular the promotion of pastoral landscape imagery and its role in the formation of the rural landscape, and conclude with a prescription of the recovery of working class history, heritage, and identity.

Angela Jancius, Youngstown State University (CWCS Outreach Director), 'Ninety Percent Market, Ten Percent Social': Imagining the Future of Work in Postsocialist Eastern German

As part of my ongoing fieldwork in Leipzig, I asked people to describe their experiences with the near totalizing deindustrialization that followed reunification, and to imagine what steps should be taken to deal with mass unemployment in the formerly socialist East.  Positioning myself as a narrator in a dialogue created by residents, this paper draws particularly from one retired metal worker and union negotiator's analysis of the East German hydraulics industry's collapse, the failure of the European "social market economy" to be "social," and of a growing interest in the reinvention of economic cooperatives.

Selmin Kara, Wayne State University, Car Theft, Transition and Transgression in Bulgaria 

This paper examines how Bulgaria, an Eastern European country, adopts a marginal social practice during its transition from a predominantly working class culture towards market economy and nouveau entrepreneurship under the framework of accession to the European Union. The EU enlargement is based on the premise of a Europe without borders; yet, as national borders are gradually eradicated, new boundaries are erected to keep the insider/outsider, self/other dichotomy intact. Despite the rhetoric of an integrated Europe, Bulgarian identity remains at the margins of the European cultural center. The Copenhagen criteria mean that for Bulgaria, the time has come to abandon the ghosts of its past and embrace its future.  Yet, for many, the glass of progress towards a functioning market economy remains half-empty: the future everyone dreams about has not arrived yet for those who have to fight with the unexpectedly high rates of transition inflation, unemployment, and crime rates. As for the other half of the glass, it is full of pre-transition ghost memories. All too often, the gray, ugly, unflattering landscape of the old regime is emotionally charged with deep nostalgia for a place that once was so familiar, but now is other. State sponsored cradle-to-grave welfare, full employment, and low crime rates represent the lighter side of the old regime1. For those who remain reluctant to let go off their ghosts, the transition from state socialism to market economy signifies more than economic data indicating incremental progress. For individuals under transition, fulfilling the community acquis is not the number one goal; surviving is.

The paper looks into the changing property regime and class nature in Bulgaria to analyze how it affects Bulgarian subjectivity. Specifically, it interprets the car theft phenomenon in Bulgaria as a means of everyday resistance to the hegemonic aspects of such changes. Car theft is defined as a common civilian practice: anonymous, disguised and opportunistic. From the perspective of the EU, it is seen as a problematic activity on the Eastern European territory. In Bulgaria, however, the enterprise of car theft (which can also be considered as a newly invented property exchange regime in the free market economy) mirrors the opportunistic, liberal, pragmatic geography of Bulgarias failed transition and might signify a new way of traveling in-between closed systems of immobility for the people.  In car theft, we can see a brute, commodified interpretation of market economy as the survival of the fittest in a Hobbesian world where actors no longer enjoy cradle-to-grave security, rather, they are in a state of a perpetual struggle for survival. These nouveau entrepreneurs view the regime ancien as null and void, the social contract based on state ownership, which legitimated the ancient regime is no longer valid, while the new property regime of liberalization and privatization lacks the proper institutions to legitimize itself. Therefore, the ensuing legitimacy gap is seized by opportunistic actors as a profitable way to create an alternative exchange market, where stolen cars become a fetishized commodity.

1Tom Gallagher ,The Balkans after the Cold War : From Tyranny to Tragedy, London New York : Routledge, 2003

Martin Kley, University of Texas at Austin, From Industrial to Post-Industrial Production: A Challenge for Working-Class Literature 

Working-class culture, in its various manifestations and practices, can be seen as a negative response to the fragmentation of social life that was brought about by the capitalist principle of division (division of labor, separation of culture and labor, etc.). While it promotes a more wholesome understanding of social life (Isnt labor also art? Or, conversely: Isnt art also labor?), the problem of working-class culture over the last century has been that the very source of this fragmentation, industrial life, has - logically, one may say - been at the same time the prime (and often exclusive) site of proletarian culture and artistic practice. The result has often been characterized as something of a vicious circle: The more working-class art thematizes industrial life (even when in opposition to most of its features), the less able it becomes to think and imagine outside of its realm (resulting, for example, in the celebration of Stalins first Five-year Plan by German workers). Furthermore, the traditional reliance on industrial topics poses a new problem today: What can be the home turf of working-class culture in an allegedly post-industrial society with its highly diversified (and hidden) working-class?

Drawing examples from working-class literature within the German context (from Weimar proletarian writers such as A. Grnberg and W. Bredel, the Bitterfelder Weg in the GDR, the Dortmunder Gruppe in West Germany, and post-unification Germany), I will re-evaluate dead-ends and chances that the synthesis of material and cultural production reveals. My papers basic premise is that, while it once was fully justified to criticize the ideology of production of much of working-class literature (e.g. by pointing out the transition from the factory to the social factory, or by shifting the focus from production to re-production), today the task for practitioners and theoreticians of working-class culture is to again recognize material production beneath consumption and symbolic production, and to point out that the former, as opposed to the latter, allows for collective practice in labor, culture, and the social fabric as a whole. 

Pepi Leistyna, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Learning to Laugh at Labor 

I have been working on a film called Class Dismissed: How Television Frames the Working Class with the Media Education Foundation. It is an analysis of the representations of the working class on entertainment television. The focus of this talk will be on how corporate media work to ridicule workers and why we need to take our entertainment seriously.

Tim Libretti, Northeastern Illinois University, Imagining the End of Capital as We Know It: Debating the Objective of Working-Class Studies through Readings of Cheri Register's Packinghouse Daughter and Maureen Brady's Folly 

This paper will compare Cheri Register's working-class memoir Packinghouse Daughter and Maureen Brady's novel Folly in terms of the way each presents a narrative of working-class advocacy and self-activity and imagines an objective and end to that activity.  I will evaluate each narrative in terms of how it answers the question What are we fighting for? and will assess as well its optimal usefulness as a narrative for informing working-class studies methodology and practice.

In particular, I will argue that Register's narrative is one that finally sustains and perpetuates the capital/labor divide as we know it by continuing to imagine labors dependence on capital.  While the text rages against the gross inequality in the U.S. and the lack of respect accorded labor, in its attempt to restore dignity to labor it glorifies working-class life in a way that fails to imagine the re-organization of work and economy in the U.S.  On the other hand,  Brady's novel develops a narrative of working-class resistance that transcends traditional models of union activism and capital/labor relations, innovatively imagining labor becoming or taking over capital and organizing production on its own behalf.  While the workers in the novel successfully negotiate a contract through collective bargaining, they come to see that this type of labor/capital relation sustains their dependence on and subjugation to capital and instead seek to explode this binary by opening their own factory.  In foregrounding self-determination as the end of working-class struggle, the novel, I will suggest, provides a utopian narrative for working-class studies.

Ami LoMonaco, Roosevelt University, Goin' to Jackson:  A Look at the Politics of Mobilityand Country Music 

Country music songs are sprinkled with tales of hardship and struggle that come along with the lived experiences of working class culture. One recurring theme throughout country music is the concept of mobility and home.  I will be focusing specifically on the lyrics of Johnny Cashs music and the idea of mobility.  I will be addressing the politics of mobility in regards to the lives of the working class.

In my paper I will also be examining the contradictory theme of home present in country music lyrics. By delving into the working class culture, I will be looking at how socio-economic conditions shape peoples lives and how the politics of mobility affects us on a personal and cultural level.

The idea of home and location is such a fragile aspect of the working class existence. Johnny Cashs music is thought to be representative of the working-class struggle and lives.  Using the lyrics of his songs I will be examining the concepts of home and mobility in regards to class and gender. By examining the juxtaposition of working class mobility and Americas romance with the notion of home I will be looking at the fragility associated with the working-class sense of home present in the lyrics of country music. '

Staughton Lynd, independent scholar, Public Intellectuals and Working-Class Struggles: Where Do We Go from Here?
A Dialogue Between Academics and Activists (roundtable)

Staughton Lynd belongs to the generation that at the end of the 1960s considered becoming "colonists" in industry.  Instead, he and his wife Alice Lynd became lawyers.  As lawyers at a legal services office in Youngstown, Ohio, Staughton helped to lead the struggle to reopen steel mills under worker-community ownership, and he and Alice helped to create Workers Against Toxic Chemical Hazards (WATCH), a retiree organization Solidarity USA, and the Workers Solidarity Club of Youngstown, which existed for more than 20 years and published the monthly newsletter IMPACT.  Staughton also served for three years as educational coordinator of Teamsters Local 377 during the years of Carey's presidency.

Other panelists in this roundtable include Paul Durrenberger, Suzan Erem, Jennifer Nicols, and Rob O'Brien.  With a focus on working-class advocacy, this roundtable takes a critical look at the relationship between scholarship and activism today.  We will open a dialogue between activists working outside of academia, and scholars who attempt to lobby for the interests of working-class and poor people from their positions within the Ivory Tower.  Drawing from the biographies and experiences of panelists and audience members, we will posit the question of whether, and to what extent, the feeling of a need to "exit" academia, in order to support social change in the "real world," is as strong today as it was a generation ago.   Building toward a constructive dialogue, this roundtable discussion will also focus on concrete examples of how alliances between labor and social justice activists working inside and outside of academia might be strengthened.

Courtney Maloney, Carnegie Mellon University, Men and Steel:  The Company Magazine as Family Album 

This paper is part of a larger project about the ways working-class people, and their history, have been represented in the public relations literature and photography of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation.  Throughout the larger project, I look at company representations of workers during the height of union power to see how J&L used cultural interventions to cope with the changing power relations brought by the union era.

One such intervention is the company magazine. Company magazines have long been used by corporate publicity and advertising departments to represent a particular vision of the corporation to its employees, and a particular vision of the workers to themselves.  Often inaugurated with the goal of building communication or of increasing understanding between management and the work force, this communication and understanding typically goes one way, from the company to the workers. J&Ls company magazine, Men and Steel, largely conforms to this type.  However, in its early years of publication, especially from 1947 to the mid-50s, Men and Steel stood out among other steel industry company magazines in that it evidenced a remarkable level of participation on the employees part.  Workers would share personal stories and send in family snapshots of vacations, holidays, weddings and graduations, and compete for the honor of having a photograph chosen for use as a magazine cover. This paper examines the ways in which this level of worker participation and self representation in the company magazine seems to suggest a certain kind of ownership of the publication on the part of the employees, and also makes the Men and Steel of this era particularly effective company propaganda.

Lou Martin, West Virginia University, Race and Ethnicity in the Upper Ohio Valley, 1940-1965 

This presentation will discuss the changing role of race and ethnicity in the Upper Ohio Valley between 1945 and 1965.  While the sons and daughters of immigrants continued to participate in their ethnic communities, they shared more experiences with the larger white working-class community.  Unions, companies, schools and the military stressed a uniform American identity over ethnic backgrounds.  At the same time, segregation by race persisted in many ways.  African Americans served in segregated units during World War II, and some schools, theaters, and pools remained segregated for a decade or more after the war. 

Many scholars have argued that the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s provoked a backlash from the white working class that culminated in the fragmentation of the New Deal coalition.  This argument rests on working-class ethnic and racial identities, and a closer examination of them is necessary.  This paper considers evidence from the towns of Weirton, West Virginia and Martins Ferry, Ohio.  The steelworkers that lived in these towns during that period formed the backbone of the valleys economy, and Weirton Steel and Wheeling Steel collectively employed a significant number of these workers.  African Americans and the children of immigrants worked side by side with native whites, but African Americans were largely excluded from white communities outside of work.  Similarly, while the CIO unions sought to promote a culture of unity, the United Steelworkers of America made it difficult for African Americans to join white workers in the skilled trades at Wheeling Steel.  These institutional influences reinforced working-class racial identities that proved especially divisive by the 1960s.

Chris Mize, University of Dayton, The Univis Strike of 1948 and McCarthyism in Dayton, Ohio 

On May 5, 1948, a small headline on page twenty-three of the Dayton Daily News announced, 658 Workers on Strike at Univis Lens. This strike eventually evolved into one of the most important and influential strikes in Ohio labor history. It transformed the area around the Univis plant into militarized zone, protected by 1,200 National Guardsmen armed with machine guns, armored cars, and three thirty-ton Sherman Tanks.  The UE locals who organized the strikers were never forgiven for their participation in the Univis Strike, and their leaders were relentlessly persecuted by both the state and federal government.

Between 1948 and 1955 perjury trials and HUAC investigations in Dayton, Ohio mirrored the attacks occurring on the national stage on the UE International union by the CIO and anti-Communist crusaders.  The UE leaders of the Univis Strike were forced to testify before the House Labor and Education Committee and HUAC about their involvement in the strike and their connections to the Communist party.  Two of them, Melvin Hupman and Walter Lohman, were convicted for perjury and sentenced to five years in jail.  When the strike began during the summer of 1948, the UE was one of the largest labor unions in Dayton. The heads of the UE locals rallied between 6,000 and 15,000 union members to march in support of the 600 or so striking Univis Lens Company workers.  When Melvin Hupman emerged from prison in 1960, the UE was no more than a memory in Dayton. Daytonians remembered the UE as the Communist led union that purposely organized the most violent strike in their citys history. More than this, The Univis Lens strike and its repercussions were among the first examples of how Taft-Hartley and the fever of McCarthyism combined on the local level to retard or outright destroy liberal and progressive political movements.

Jennifer Nicols, Michigan State University, Public Intellectuals and Working-Class Struggles: Where Do We Go from Here?
A Dialogue Between Academics and Activists (roundtable)

Jenn Nichols is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Michigan State University, where she has served in her labor union, the Graduate Employees Union, as Information Officer, Steering Committee and Grievance Committee member, and co-chief negotiator.  She has worked as a union organizer for both the Michigan and the American Federation of Teachers.  A long-time activist, Jenn has participated in campaigns for workers rights, reproductive rights, local environmental issues, and public awareness and understanding of HIV/AIDS.  She has also worked as a volunteer ESL and adult literacy tutor.  Her dissertation project examines the political implications of the changing representations of working-class women throughout twentieth-century U.S. literature. 

Other panelists in this roundtable include Paul Durrenberger, Suzan Erem, Staughton Lynd and Rob O'Brien.  With a focus on working-class advocacy, this roundtable takes a critical look at the relationship between scholarship and activism today.  We will open a dialogue between activists working outside of academia, and scholars who attempt to lobby for the interests of working-class and poor people from their positions within the Ivory Tower.  Drawing from the biographies and experiences of panelists and audience members, we will posit the question of whether, and to what extent, the feeling of a need to "exit" academia, in order to support social change in the "real world," is as strong today as it was a generation ago.   Building toward a constructive dialogue, this roundtable discussion will also focus on concrete examples of how alliances between labor and social justice activists working inside and outside of academia might be strengthened.

Rob O'Brien, Temple University, Public Intellectuals and Working-Class Struggles: Where Do We Go from Here?
A Dialogue Between Academics and Activists (roundtable)

As an engaged anthropologist, Rob OBrien has worked closely with community organizations, city and state government, healthcare providers, and educators on a wide range of poverty-related issues. Rob organized and ran a health advocacy and education group for Philadelphia inmates, former inmates, and their families. He has taught and consulted for a community education course for people living with HIV/AIDS and co-directed a summer service learning project for students at an inner-city technical high school. He was a member of the steering committee which eventually won union recognition for graduate employees at Temple University. Rob has also taught courses on urban social change, race and ethnicity, service learning, space and place, culture in the U.S., and underdevelopment and structural adjustment.

For his dissertation fieldwork, conducted in a deindustrialized, multiracial, and multiethnic neighborhood of Philadelphia, Rob has sifted through medicalized, criminalized, and racialized discourses about the roots of injustices faced by people living with HIV/AIDS, with substance use and mental health issues, and with a host of chronic physical ailments that go untreated as a result of marginalization. This fieldwork has been done in an effort to trace out understandings of social networking and subject creation held by these people, their advocates, and those who would develop them out of the community in an effort to find potentialities for connecting with non-medical struggles.

Other panelists in this roundtable include Paul Durrenberger, Suzan Erem, Staughton Lynd, and Jennifer Nicols.  With a focus on working-class advocacy, this roundtable takes a critical look at the relationship between scholarship and activism today.  We will open a dialogue between activists working outside of academia, and scholars who attempt to lobby for the interests of working-class and poor people from their positions within the Ivory Tower.  Drawing from the biographies and experiences of panelists and audience members, we will posit the question of whether, and to what extent, the feeling of a need to "exit" academia, in order to support social change in the "real world," is as strong today as it was a generation ago.   Building toward a constructive dialogue, this roundtable discussion will also focus on concrete examples of how alliances between labor and social justice activists working inside and outside of academia might be strengthened.