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ACS Early Career Faculty Seminar

Virtual Event Virtual Event

April 1, 2021 @ 5:00 pm 6:00 pm EDT

The Dam or the Gate: Public Sector Labor Organization

Dr. Joseph Hower, Southwestern University

View the recording of the event below.

The 1968 strike by 1,300 Black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee often serves as a historical footnote to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination—the occasion for his visit to the city, but rarely considered on its terms. This talk positions that fused labor and civil rights struggle in the longer historical context of public sector labor organizing in the postwar south. Drawn from the sixth chapter of my book manuscript, it considers the strike by American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 1733 both on its own terms and as a pivotal moment in the history of the public sector labor movement. Previously focused on narrow issues of institutional security and legal legitimacy, Dr. Hower suggests, Memphis imbued the rapidly growing movement with a moral and political urgency that, in the 1970s, set the stage for AFSCME’s emergence as an anchor of labor-liberal politics in an era often understood in terms of union retrenchment and retreat.