Labor History For Labor Activists Class

Portland Rising’s 2019 LABOR HISTORY FOR LABOR ACTIVISTS class

These are hard times for most people and likely to get harder.  Although significant organizing efforts are underway, many of which have led to a resurgence of activism and successful workplace and community struggles, the way forward remains challenging.

Transformative change requires thoughtful and sustained organizing guided by a strategic vision.  But how precisely should we organize, what issues and which communities should we prioritize, and how do we build on struggles for immediate improvements to create broader movements for social transformation?

These and many other related questions are not easy to answer, but we are not the first to face them.  That is why Portland Rising, a committee of Portland Jobs with Justice, is offering a six-week Labor History for Labor Activists class starting in April 2019.  The aim of the class is to help local activists learn from US labor history to become more effective organizers in their own workplaces, unions, and communities.

The class was first offered in Fall 2017.  Norm Diamond, the class instructor, talked about the completed class as well as the importance of labor history in two interviews on KBOO radio.  The first can be heard here and the second here.

The basics

The 2019 Labor History for Labor Activists class will be held six successive Mondays, from 7 to 9 pm, starting April 1, 2019 and ending May 6, 2019.

The class size is limited to 15 in order to promote active engagement among participants and with the material.  Participants are expected to attend all six class sessions.

We ask those who wish to take the class to complete a short, on-line application form which can be found here.  Selection of participants will begin February 17, 2009.  Applicants will be notified whether they have been selected for the class no later than March 4, 2019.

The class will be held in the 5th floor conference room, next to the Jobs with Justice office, 1500 NE Irving Street, Portland, 97232.

Class structure

Class sessions will be organized both chronologically and thematically.  Some of the history to be covered in each session includes:

  • Session 1: Early Twentieth Century. AFL and IWW, Lawrence Textile Strike, Seattle General Strike.
  • Session 2: 1930s. Workers’ Self-Organization During the Depression, Creation of the ILWU (west coast longshore union).
  • Session 3: 1930s. Origins of the CIO, “Girl Strikers” in Retail.
  • Session 4: Post-World War II. The Turning Point: Attack on Labor and Labor’s Response.
  • Session 5: 1960s and 1970s. Revolutionary Union Movement in Auto, Teachers Organize.
  • Session 6: Our More Recent Past. Public Sector Unions, United Farmworkers, New Issues and Continuing Struggles.

Here are some of the themes that will be engaged across all the sessions:

  • Different visions for how to organize, what kind of organizations to build, and what organizing is for.
  • Unions as representatives of the broader working class or as membership organizations.
  • Different criteria for whom to target, whom to include, and whom to reach out to for support (race, gender, skill, and the role of community).
  • The changing nature of work, its relation to nature, and its impact on worker organization.
  • Labor’s relation to government, law, political parties and the State.
  • Different conceptions of leadership.

Each class session will also have a cultural component, through labor song, poetry, humor, graphic arts, theatre, film, stories or novels.

Class requirements

Each class session will build on the preceding one.  Therefore, participants are expected to attend all six sessions. Participants should also expect to spend around one hour reading assigned material in preparation for each session.

The instructor

Norm Diamond has worked in factories and universities and written extensively on labor and labor history. He is the co-author of The Power In Our Hands: A Curriculum on The History of Work and Workers in the United States and was president of the Pacific Northwest Labor College where he developed a program on labor environmentalism and trained workplace organizers. He is currently Oregon trustee of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association.

The application process and timeline

Our aim is a diverse group of class participants in terms of workplace and activist experience.  Therefore, we ask those who wish to take the class to complete a short, on-line application form which can be found here.  The selection period will begin February 17, 2009, and end once the class limit is reached.  Our aim is a diverse group of participants in terms of workplace and activist experience.  Applicants will be notified whether they have been selected for the class no later than March 4, 2019.

The application form

Requested information:

Union affiliation (if any)

Write one or two paragraphs on each of the following two questions:

Question 1: Describe your past and present activism.
Question 2: What challenges have you encountered in your activism that you hope labor history might shed light on?

Please enter your responses on our on-line application form.


For more information about the class, email


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