Not By the Hand of Clark Kerr: The Pacific Coast School for Workers and the Origins of Industrial Relations in the Multiversity
Tobias Higbie, University of California at Los Angeles
At the conclusion of World War II, legislators in several industrial states created new academic programs devoted to the study and influence of labor-management-relations. In the words of labor economist Clark Kerr, who directed one of these centers and would later be president of the University of California, his Institute of Industrial Relations was “the very first effort of this big university to make contact with the trade unions.” For Kerr, it was the first step on the road toward mass access to college that he championed in the Master Plan for Higher Education. Drawing on university archives from several states, this paper explores an alternative origin for Industrial Relations. It begins in reading circles of immigrant workers, takes shape in the labor colleges of the interwar years, and is grafted onto a reluctant university by pro-labor legislators eager to open higher education to the masses. Concern within the university over who would control the curriculum of “workers’ education” simmered through administrative correspondence, reflecting a contest over knowledge about political economy, and what types of students were appropriate college material. “Industrial Relations” sanctioned legitimate university interactions with trade unions separate from the core curriculum.In the postwar expansion of higher education, working class youth would encounter the university as students rather than as workers.But the pedagogical insights of “workers’ education” would resurface in the context of 1960s campus unrest.
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