Amid increased strike activity, IRLE labor experts discuss present and future of the labor movement

IRLE Director Tobias Higbie led dynamic panel discussion hosted by UCLA’s Department of History

UCLA IRLE | November 20, 2023

Following a series of high-profile strikes across Los Angeles and the nation, Tobias Higbie, labor historian and director at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE), moderated a panel discussion titled: “America on Strike: Workers Take Center Stage”, held Nov 6 at UCLA’s James West Alumni Center. 

Hosted by UCLA’s History Department’s “Why History Matters” series, the event featured Kent Wong, project director for labor and community partnerships at the UCLA Labor Center, a unit of IRLE, Susan Minato, co-president at UNITE HERE Local 11 and current UCLA labor studies labor movement fellow, and Billy Ray, screenwriter, director and former co-chair of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) negotiating committee.

During the discussion, Higbie drew comparisons between the worker organizing dubbed “hot labor summer” or “strike season” to previous waves of worker activism in the United States. Among other topics, Higbie led panelists through a dynamic discussion that explored the macroeconomic conditions that are driving labor activism, the innovative tactics unions are employing to advance economic justice, artificial intelligence in the workplace and the growing solidarity among workers of different sectors.

Following the event, Higbie reflected on the panelists’ analysis.

“After more than a year of consistently elevated strike activity, unions have notched some big gains, but still have a long way to go to regain the concessions of recent decades,” he said. “Working people are turning to unions to challenge the power of employers at work and over our economy and politics. We can expect this trend to continue, especially among young workers who are very pro-union.”

We invite you to relive this panel conversation. 

“Why History Matters” is an annual event for the UCLA History Department that brings together a group of experts to discuss contemporary events and their historical context. The goal is to engage non-expert audiences with the complexity of the past and present, and to support understanding and productive debate.

Tobias Higbie is a labor historian, professor of history and labor studies and directs UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, a multi unit research center that advances labor research, education and service through the work of its subunits — the UCLA Labor Center, Labor Studies, the Labor Occupational Safety (LOSH) and Health Program and the Human Resources Round Table (HARRT).

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