Over 250 labor scholars and practitioners from unions, universities and nonprofits across the country attended the fourth annual LRAN conference, hosted by the Kalmanovitz Initiative at Georgetown University. The conference started with a conversation between AFT President Randi Weingarten, Harvard University scholar Theda Skocpol and journalist and author of Nixonland, Rick Perlstein, who discussed some of the obstacles workers and modest income families are facing – both in the economy and in politics – as well as the root causes. Weingarten and Skocpol both emphasized the need for greater and more consistent engagement in community issues, increasing membership-based organizing and new organizing models. The second day opened with President of SEIU Healthcare Illinois Keith Kelleher, Katie Quan of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, and Saket Soni, executive director of the National Guestworker Alliance, who reflected on their lessons learned from organizing workers and researching strategies to build worker power in a global economy. Noted labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy, presented a lecture on the trend away from the vertical integration of companies and strategies for holding the ultimate employer accountable for labor standards.
A core mission of LRAN, a project coordinated by Jobs With Justice Education Fund, is to create a space for the exchange of ideas to advance a progressive workers’ movement, and this year’s conference is clearly fulfilling that goal. Throughout the day, professors, organizers, students and researchers networked, explored ways to collaborate and shared their experiences through panels that delved into topics ranging from auto worker organizing in the South, a recent successful campaign to enact paid family leave in New Jersey, and digital worker organizing strategies. Another core mission of LRAN is to support new scholars in the field. Thanks to a Berger Marks grant, 10 women scholars and activists attended the conference and joined the foundation for a breakfast to network with each other [link here: http://www.bergermarks.org/news/2014/index3.php]. In addition, 2014 LRAN research grant finalists updated the conference on their developing research projects. To contribute to the 2015 research grant fund, donate here.