A Conference On Building Worker Power Through Solidarity, Cooperation, And Care


Chris Smalls, a founder of the Amazo Labor Union is one of the keynote speakers at the Building Worker Power conference at UMass. Photo: Amazon Labor Union

by Clare Hammonds, Dylan Hatch, Mary Hoyer, Nellie Marshall-Torres, Boone Shear, Nellie Tayor, Eve Weinbaum

In just a few weeks, activists and organizers; community members and policy makers; students and faculty; and workers of all kinds will gather for three days of discussions, relationship building, and strategizing around how to transform working conditions and make meaningful, care(ful), and transformative livelihoods. We hope you will join us! 

In this time of economic crisis and ecological collapse, workers of all kinds are rejecting the alienation and violence of racial capitalism. Spurred on through the ongoing global pandemic, a “great resignation” of workers are refusing to return to jobs that pay too little and demand too many hours; workers at giant corporations are seizing collective power through union organizing; the collective ownership of worker-owned cooperatives are attracting an increasing number of workers and communities; the younger generations are increasingly questioning whether “work”— under the power and direction of the ruling class—makes any sense at all.

Massachusetts has a rich history of radical labor organizing, from the union co-op work of the Knights of Labor to Communitarian projects; from the Bread and Roses strike to the legacies of W.E.B. Dubois; and from the Communist Party of Massachusetts to the Underground Railroad. Today, Massachusetts has one of the higher union densities of any state in the union, as well as the third most worker-owned cooperatives. Statewide coalitions and local initiatives are building relationships and power between and among unions and cooperatives, and between organized labor and communities. And the University of Massachusetts is home to one of the only graduate programs for labor leaders in the U.S. as well as the only post-secondary degree for worker-owned cooperatives. 

These various projects direct us toward questions and possibilities for working and being in the world beyond instrumental notions of wage-labor, competition, and economic growth; and towards a world rooted in solidarity, cooperation, and care.  

  • How do unions and worker cooperatives tangibly improve the lives of workers, families, and communities? 
  • What is the role of mass incarceration in weakening organized labor? How are struggles for abolition necessarily struggles for worker autonomy and control? 
  • How are communities and movements building solidarity across union and cooperative organizing?
  • What is the role of care and care-work in struggles for worker power? How can care be centered as an organizing value and principle for labor–wage labor, worker-ownership, domestic labor? 
  • How can organized labor move power to membership and away from hierarchical leadership models? 

This conference explores the deep histories, current happenings, and future possibilities of collaborations between union organizing and worker-owned cooperatives. Through these conversations and learnings we aim to build connections that can advance projects for worker power and social change in Massachusetts and beyond. We invite workers of all kinds– community members, organizers, activists, educators, students, and anyone interested in worker power and social transformation–to attend or propose workshops and panels, build relationships, and join in the conversations. The conference registration is Pay What You Can. Go here to register and/or support the conference. For questions about the conference please contact conference organizers at buildingworkerpower2023@gmail.com

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