Class Act

Posted on April 21, 2010 by

I teach a course called “Labor in America” at a community college just south of downtown Los Angeles.

It’s not as if students at Trade Tech sign up because they’re dying to learn about unions.  In fact, many enroll because the class can be applied toward their “American Institutions” graduation requirement.

That’s fine with me.

Once they show up their interest is stirred.  They may be curious what the Labor Movement has to do with history, politics and economics.  But mostly, they want to know what unions have to do with them.

Some Trade Tech students are there for job training – culinary, fashion, nursing, electronics – some to transfer to a four year school and some to ride out the recession.  There’s a big age spread and average household income is clearly weighted toward the working-class.

While there may be a slight pro-union tendency, it would be a mistake to assume this.

A good way to begin to teach about labor in 2010 is to look at the “wage, income and wealth gap,” in America, consider the low percentage of unionized private sector workers in this country and then run the clock backwards for an explanation.

But while taking advantage of this particularly good “teaching moment” to contrast the “haves” from the “have-nots,” don’t forget where you are.  This is America.  You’d better not deprive us of our hopes, motivations and ambitions.  We need our self-esteem to get us through.  And please don’t bum us out with talk about how we’re never going to get anywhere.

You see, class consciousness in American is tricky business.

So from time to time I’ll ruminate here on what I’m learning – from teaching – about our complicated country, its unforgiving economy and the paradox of a working class reluctant to look itself in the face.

Comments (4)


  1. gilda haas says:

    i’d love to see your class notes…working backward from where we are. looking forward to what you come with — what you’re learning.

  2. Seth says:

    I think your class would be very interesting in deed. I would like for you to explain in a future post what you feel the need for labor unions in today’s economy is.

    I can see the need for labor unions in the past to improve working conditions and low wages… but in today’s economy it seems like in many situations the labor unions are as much to blame for the poor economy and working conditions as the business owners.

    I find that the business owner is always about filling his own pocket. That is consistent. If you can show the business owner how treating his employees well increases his income… then that makes sense.

    The labor bosses are harder to tell. They seem to be just as corruptible as the bosses under the guise of “better” conditions for workers.

    I am just not convinced that our economy benefits from labor unions any more.

  3. Working class? Is that auto mechanics night school or study detention like night traffic court? Maybe the name should be employee class, team member class or associate class, but of course liberal’s just created class consciousness to create the illusion of class struggle or so say the owners of most everything who constantly remind us all that we are not them and don’t want us in their gated neighborhoods, private country clubs or social gatherings.

    Maybe you can find commonality by starting by agreeing with “Rush”. Everybody knows that you should agree with the loudmouth schoolyard bully and give him your lunch money everyday. Besides telling opportunists how brilliant they are and how right they are about everything, since they are obviously, by either divine right or scientific selection, the gifted sources that we as a society only can benefit from, no matter how abusive or unrestrained or deregulated, the nature of their ruthless exploitation.

  4. Jane Templin says:

    I am looking forward to future posts on this subject.

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