2pm | James Young discusses his book, Union Power: The United Electrical Workers in Erie, Pennsylvania.
About Union Power:
If you’re lucky enough to be employed today in the United States, there’s about a one-in-ten chance that you’re in a labor union. And even if you’re part of that unionized 10 percent, chances are your union doesn’t carry much economic or political clout. But this was not always the case, as historian and activist James Young shows in this vibrant story of the United Electrical Workers Union. The UE, built by hundreds of rank-and-file worker-activists in the quintessentially industrial town of Erie, Pennsylvania, was able to transform the conditions of the working class largely because it went beyond the standard call for living wages to demand quantum leaps in worker control over workplaces, community institutions, and the policies of the federal government itself.
James Young’s book is a richly empowering history told from below, showing that the collective efforts of the many can challenge the supremacy of the few. Erie’s two UE locals confronted a daunting array of obstacles: the corporate superpower General Electric; ferocious red-baiting; and later, the debilitating impact of globalization. Yet, by working through and across ethnic, gender, and racial divides, communities of people built a viable working-class base powered by real democracy. While the union’s victories could not be sustained completely, the UE is still alive and fighting in Erie. This book is an exuberant and eloquent testament to this fight, and a reminder to every worker—employed or unemployed; in a union or out—that an injury to one is an injury to all.
3pm | Todd Mealy discusses his book, This is the Rat Speaking: Black Power and the Promise of Racial Consciousness at Franklin & Marshall College in the Age of the Takeover, 1967-69.
About This is the Rat Speaking:
The demise of the so-called Jim Crow laws in 1964 and 1965 and the victory of the civil rights movement rang hollow in the ears of most African Americans. While segregation was practiced in many places of the South, systemic forms of racism permeated northern society. As distrust pervaded African American communities after 1966, the maligned Black Panther Party filled the void, especially among baby boomers who moved the African American liberation movement further to the left.
During this difficult time, when the country was torn apart by issues of race and poverty, as well as the escalation of the Vietnam War, unrest seemed to prevail at a myriad of colleges and universities across the United States where newly formed Afro-American societies and black student unions pressed for pedagogical change suited to the liberation doctrine coming from the black left. Spring 1969 was a particularly explosive semester as African American students occupied administrative buildings and common areas at both historically black and predominantly white colleges on the East Coast.
In This Is the Rat Speaking, author Todd M. Mealy reconstructs the May 22, 1969, black student uprising at Franklin and Marshall College. Using Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and Franklin and Marshall College as his setting, Mealy revisits the role and influence of the Black Panthers and delves into how activism for black studies curriculum emerged within the black power movement of the 1960s. Based on oral history testimony, investigation reports, and judicial records, Mealy provokes discussion from different perspectives.