Is interest in labor history waning?

WHA conference logoLabor historians from Canada and the United States grappled with the question of labor history’s allegedly diminishing role in the study of western history when they joined a panel at the 55th conference of the Western History Association in Portland on Oct. 24, 2015.

The discussion ranged from a review of the status of labor history in Canada to its place in Asian and Mexican-American labor history. Some panelists agreed that the study of capitalism seemed in bigger demand among university students than the study of labor history. Others saw the insertion of labor history into such courses as potentially enhancing those studies.

PNLHA member Jim Gregory’s positive assessment of progress in the U.S. was welcomed. Gregory, president-elect of the Labor and Working-Class History Association, noted that the panel was co-sponsored by LAWCHA.

The five panelists and moderator Matthew Basso from the University of Utah reached no agreement on the question, but audience participation move the discussion to strategies for restoring any lost interest in labor history.

Oregon PNLHA vice-president Ron Verzuh suggested that part of the strategy could include reaching out beyond the classroom to a public audience that would benefit from learning more about local labor history.

Later in the conference, PNLHA member Laurie Mercier delivered her paper on left-led unions and their role in the struggle to achieve women’s equality.