Event—Scholarly Seminars

Tobias Higbie, University of California-Los Angeles, Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, University of California-Los Angeles, & Bradley J. Sommer


Coalition Architecture: Forging Solidarity in a Fragmented City

Tomorrow Never Came: The Making of a Postindustrial City

Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, Tobias Higbie, Bradley J. Sommer

Coalition Architecture: Forging Solidarity in a Fragmented City

Tobias Higbie, University of California, Los Angles and Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, University of California-Los Angeles

The story of organized labor’s declining power and influence in the United States beginning in the 1970s is all-too familiar to historians and organizers. Deindustrialization undermined the power of unions while neoliberal austerity endorsed union-busting, decimated municipal finances, and promoted marketization of social provision. In some of the failed efforts of those dark days, however, we find the outlines of contemporary progressive organizing. We explore three intertwined case studies from Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s: union campaigns among undocumented immigrants, efforts to stop plant closures and mass layoffs, and a municipal ballot initiative against military contractors. These experimental organizing campaigns developed a shared commitment to coalition building that, over time, trained a network of activists, challenged the power of state and corporate actors, prepared organized labor to grow in the 1990s and then play a leading role in California’s progressive politics of the 2000s. Ironically, it was organized labor’s structural weakness and lack of unity in the 1970s that created the context for more dynamic and inclusive organizing coalitions. We also see the labor and labor-adjacent campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s as part of a longer multi-tendency legacy of organizing on the left. Rethinking the role of experimentation and failure in movements for social change, we hope to contribute to a better understanding of both labor history and the prospects for the current upsurge in unionization and progressive politics in the U.S.

Tomorrow Never Came: The Making of a Postindustrial City

Bradley J. Sommer

What comes to mind when someone says, “the Rust Belt?” Whatever people usually associate with the term, everyone is likely thinking about deindustrialization. Most people think of deindustrialization as the end. What many Americans do not think of is what comes after, postindustrialization. In Tomorrow Never Came I argue that deindustrialization is not the end of a process but is instead a middle point of a larger, more complex process. I trace the last 60 years of Toledo, Ohio’s history answering the questions of what postindustrial cities are, how they form, and the relationship between deindustrial and postindustrial America.

Respondent: Gabriel Winant, University of Chicago


This event is free, but all participants must register in advance below. Space is limited, so please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.

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About the Labor History Seminar

The Newberry Labor History Seminar provides a forum for works in progress that explore the history of working class people, communities, and culture; class and state policy; unions and popular political movements; and other related topics.

Co-coordinators are Peter Cole (Western Illinois University), Colleen Doody (DePaul University), Liesl Orenic (Dominican University), and Elizabeth Tandy Shermer (Loyola University Chicago).


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