Labor and civil rights leaders coming to IU Bloomington for Themester

Labor Day is a good time to take note of a blockbuster lineup of speakers from the organized labor and civil rights movements coming to IU Bloomington for the College of Arts and Sciences’ 2015 Themester, titled “@Work: The Nature of Labor on a Changing Planet.”

They include Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, and the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, who will discuss the legacies and future of the labor and civil rights movements; and Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, who will discuss immigration.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

Trumka has been president of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor organization, since 2009. Before that, he served as its secretary for 14 years. He worked in southwestern Pennsylvania mines and at age 33 was elected the youngest president of the United Mine Workers of America.

Barber spent his early childhood in Indianapolis before his family relocated to North Carolina. As head of the state NAACP, he has spoken out against voter restrictions and cuts in state education and social service spending. He has received national acclaim as the organizer of Moral Mondays, a movement that has drawn thousands of people to protests at the North Carolina statehouse.

Barber and Trumka will share a stage for “Labor and Civil Rights: Bold Legacies and New Directions,” a discussion at 7 p.m. Nov. 4 in Presidents Hall of Franklin Hall.

Ai-jen Poo began organizing female immigrant workers nearly 20 years ago and co-founded Domestic Workers United in New York in 2000. Along with 11 other organizations, that group launched the National Domestic Workers Alliance in 2007. She was named a McArthur fellow in 2014 and was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2012.

She will be the keynote speaker for “Politics, Promises and Possibilities: The 1965 Immigration Act at 50,” a daylong program of talks, discussions and performances Oct. 16 at the Indiana Memorial Union.

While it’s common to think of Labor Day as just a three-day weekend and a last chance for summertime leisure, the holiday began 130 years ago as a tribute to contributions workers have made to the nation. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, it is “a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.”

The IU Bloomington themed semester won’t focus entirely on organized labor, of course. It will include a broad-based and multidisciplinary look at dramatic shifts in the ways that Americans are experiencing work and an exploration of the history and the future implications of these changes.

In addition to lectures, panel discussions and academic symposia, it will include courses, films, plays, exhibitions and other activities and events. A complete schedule is at the Themester website.

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