Yes, Michael Yates, please tell us

Michael Yates mikey+ at SPAMpitt.edu
Thu Feb 1 13:52:55 MST 2001


The conference was organized by the students who edit the "Journal of
Employment and Labor Law" which is published at Penn.  The chief student
organizer is an earnest and serious fellow, but the rest of the students
appeared not at all interested in the subject of labor law and the
building of a strong working class movement.  Quite the contrary, they
appeared to be associated with the journal as something to put on their
resumes. Best I could tell, nearly all of them are going to work for
large corporations.  At dinner, one of them said that she never thought
she would go into corporate law, but well here she was!!!going to work
for a corporation.

I was the only speaker who did not graduate from or teach at an elite
school and I could feel, almost literally my second class status.  Why
they didn't know that the Univ. of Pittsburgh had a campus outside of
Pittsburgh! (I teach in a small and poor town about 70 miles away).  At
dinner a teacher at the Univ. of Maryland Law school turned to me and
said, "What's your story."  She thought that I was a factory worker
turned scholar.  When she found out I was not, that was the end of our
conversation.  She could get into talking to someone with an exotic
background but not with ordinary old me.

The academic speakers showed very little knowledge or working people.  A
professor from Penn's famous Wharton Business School talked about how
different today's workers were--better educated and not interested in
adversarial relationships in the workplace.  They all want to be part of
a team and get to fulfill themselves.  Another professor said that one
function unions could serve for workers who moved around from employer
to employer and who also had low wages was to help them become
entrepreneurs (he used the example of janitors).  I told him he was
turning Marx on his head, by making the unions their own grave diggers.

The president of the union of engineers who struck Boeing last year was
really dreadful.  Among many other awful things he said that his union
was all in favor of lean production including "constant improvement
(kaizen in Japanese), a fancy word for speedup.  When I wondered aloud
how solidarity could be built with his union and other less well-placed
workers, he said that we are all human and this was the basis for
solidarity!!

There were a couple of good speakers, notably a lawyer who works with
domestic workers and day laborers in New York City.  And Clyde Summers,
a venerable old union democracy stalwart, praised my paper and said that
he was glad to hear something radically different than what he usually
heard at such conferences.  But all in all, I could not really think of
any socially useful thing that came out of the conference (though
personally we were glad to have three days in Philadelphia in a nice
hotel!!).

Michael Yates

Richard Fidler wrote:
>
> >>Here are some remarks I made at a conference held at the Univ. of Pennsylvania
> Law School on Jan. 26, 2001 in Philadelphia. For list members outside of the
> U.S. the Wagner Act was the first broad federal law to protect the rights of
> working people enacted in the U.S. Comments are welcome. I would be happy to say
> a few things about the conference if anyone is interested. It was an interesting
> experience in class distinction, academic careerism, the lack of any connection
> or understanding between most academics and working people, and the utter lack
> of class consciousness among the technical workers (engineers who struck Boeing
> last year)whose president a presentation. <<
>
> Michael Yates posted an excellent speech he gave at a conference to the list a
> couple of days ago. I just re-posted it to a left-wing lawyer friend who teaches
> labour law, and noticed again Michael's offer to tell us about the conference. I
> just want to say, yes, please do.
>
> Richard Fidler


Richard Fidler wrote:
>
> >>Here are some remarks I made at a conference held at the Univ. of Pennsylvania
> Law School on Jan. 26, 2001 in Philadelphia. For list members outside of the
> U.S. the Wagner Act was the first broad federal law to protect the rights of
> working people enacted in the U.S. Comments are welcome. I would be happy to say
> a few things about the conference if anyone is interested. It was an interesting
> experience in class distinction, academic careerism, the lack of any connection
> or understanding between most academics and working people, and the utter lack
> of class consciousness among the technical workers (engineers who struck Boeing
> last year)whose president a presentation. <<
>
> Michael Yates posted an excellent speech he gave at a conference to the list a
> couple of days ago. I just re-posted it to a left-wing lawyer friend who teaches
> labour law, and noticed again Michael's offer to tell us about the conference. I
> just want to say, yes, please do.
>
> Richard Fidler





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