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Inaugural Labor and Social Justice Fair at CSU Dominguez Hills Features History Makers and Entertainment to Present Labor Issues
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Caption BulletGraphic by Ricardo Levins Morales

Inaugural Labor and Social Justice Fair at CSU Dominguez Hills Features History Makers and Entertainment to Present Labor Issues

The first-ever Labor and Social Justice Fair at California State University, Dominguez Hills takes place today until 9 p.m. The date of the event was chosen by its proximity to May 1, or May Day, an international holiday recognizing the achievements of the labor movement and commemorating the martyrs of Chicago’s 1886 Haymarket Massacre, who were fighting for the eight-hour work day. The event’s theme “Uniting for Social Justice,” will be highlighted by talks and performances featuring union leaders, elected officials, immigrant rights advocates, social justice agents, and artists whose work reflects the need for social justice as it relates to the workplace.

The Labor Studies Department, along with the Labor Studies Club, organized this event to highlight 30 years of the program at the university. Vivian Price, assistant professor of labor studies, says that the commitment of the students who organized the event speaks to the spirit of the labor movement itself.

“Our Labor Studies Practicum class took a great deal of the responsibility for organizing most of this event,” she says. “It's an Internet class, but the students are also voluntarily getting together with the Labor Studies Club to plan the event. One of our students, the club president, is a taxi driver. You have to wait until 2 o’ clock in the afternoon to say ‘Good morning’ to him.”

Price is also proud of how most of the day’s events, which cover such topics as the Employee Free Choice Act, careers in labor, and cutting-edge organizing methods, are being moderated or presented by CSU Dominguez Hills students and alumni.

“Some of our students are already active in the labor movement,” she says. “The vice president of the Communication Workers of America union is in the Labor Studies Practicum, as is a business representative from Teamsters 572. Our labor studies department offers a flexible program for union officers and rank and file to finish their bachelor's degree.”

Also participating in the day's events are 170 high school students from Miguel Contreras Learning Center and Crenshaw High.

“Manny Lares, the vice president of the Labor Studies Club, felt that reaching out to the youth is critical for our university and for the labor movement and helped organize other students to do outreach,” Price says. “Our students made presentations to CSU Dominguez Hills classes about the fair, but also went to several high schools to tell them about the event and about making Dominguez Hills their college of choice.”

Scott Hill, a transfer student from Trade Tech and secretary-treasurer of the Labor Studies Club, is actually the person who dreamed up the idea of the fair. He wants students at CSU Dominguez Hills to know about the labor studies program and the opportunities for careers in the labor movement. He says that workshops will be interactive, enhancing the knowledge and experience that students will gain at the event.

“Discussion ultimately leads to new ideas and new plans,” says the labor studies major. “We have about 50 organizations and vendors who are going to come and teach students about what opportunities are available in the labor and social economic justice community. At a time when there are not many job openings, there is potential in the union movement and in nonprofits for students to volunteer, do internships, and gain a career, as well as learn about the issues.

Hill adds that he hopes students will be inspired by the Dominguez Hills event and get involved in the May 1st march for immigrant rights in downtown Los Angeles and vote to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which advocates for an easier system to enable employees to organize and to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts.

“The labor community is not that familiar with Dominguez Hills and vice versa,” he notes. “We want to be able to connect both of them so that we will be able to grow and assist one another in the future.”

Price hopes that the event will enhance the campus community’s knowledge and interest in the labor movement as an agent of social change. She points out the involvement of labor unions and their support for the causes of other groups of workers in different industries.

“When there are strikes, the longshore industry and unions take care of [other] striking workers,” she says. “When the grocery workers were on strike, they came to the longshore hall. [The longshore union] bought their groceries for them and paid their utility bills, so they could stay on strike without becoming homeless.

“A lot of the time, people think of labor unions as servicing [only] their members,” she notes. “But quite a few labor unions work closely with community organizations on issues like the environment. I'm supportive of the idea of social justice unionism, which means that labor fights for change that will help everyone. Together, labor and community have the potential to challenge the greed and militarism of this country and connect with progressive groups internationally. Academic institutions like ours have a role to play in deepening the dialogue about social justice unionism.”

CSU Dominguez Hills is the only university in southern California that offers a bachelor’s degree in labor studies. Price says that the university’s unique niche has blossomed into partnerships with Trade Tech and UCLA, which respectively offer an Associate of Arts degree and a minor in labor studies. Price also serves on the advisory board for the Dolores Huerta Labor Institute, which works on infusing labor studies into the curriculum of the Los Angeles community colleges.

The keynote speaker is United Farm Workers (UFW) founder and labor leader Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the UFW with Cesar Chavez in the wake of the 1960s’ grape boycotts, which gave birth to the farm workers’ movement. Actor Jason George, known for starring roles in television series like “Eve,” “Eli Stone,” and “What About Brian,” kicked off the event at noon, speaking about his union activism as a board member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Rick Eiden, secretary and treasurer of the Orange County Federation of Labor, will also address the crowd. Throughout the day, activities will take place inside and outside of the Loker Student Union, with a variety of on- and off-campus organizations providing information on jobs, internships, and campaigns. A student art exhibit with works focused on the significance of May Day will be on display and the winners of a labor essay competition will be announced.

Four film screenings will take place during the day and will include the Emmy Award-winning “Made in LA,” a documentary on the sweatshops of the garment industry in Los Angeles; “At the River I Stand,” which illustrates the parallels of inequity in the workforce with the fight for civil rights; “Eyes on the Fries,” a look at the era of the low-paying, downwardly mobile ‘McJob;’ and “Nalini by Day/Nancy by Night,” an exploration of business process outsourcing in India.

Kent Wong, director of the Labor Center at UCLA will give the evening’s opening remarks. A free buffet dinner will be served at 6:15 p.m. The evening's entertainment will include musicial group The Lefteous Sisters, organized by CSUDH’s Ericka Verba, assistant professor of history, will be performing, followed by a short play on Cesar Chavez, neo-soul group Authentik Praise and dance band Los Jornaleros (The Day Laborers).

Sponsors include Associated Students, Inc. (ASI), Toro Productions, the Diane Middleton Foundation, the California Faculty Association (CFA), Communication Workers of America (CWA), Southern California District Council ILWU Local 26 and the Screen Actors Guild, and many more.

“The labor unions embraced this event, and made it possible for groups without much funding to participate,” Price says.

The Labor and Social Justice Fair is free and open to the public. For more information, a complete schedule for the fair, and an up-to-date list of sponsors, visit the web site at dhlaborstudies.org, call the Labor Studies Department at (310) 243-3640, or email idspace@csudh.edu.

- Amy Bentley-Smith and Joanie Harmon

 
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Last updated Thursday, April 23, 2009, 11:49 a.m., by Joanie Harmon