An Indiana University professor of Labor Studies led the effort to bring the Working-Class Studies Association’s annual conference to Bloomington May 31-June 3


Professor Joseph Varga, a member of the faculty of the Department of Labor Studies and a long-time member of the association, began thinking Indiana University should host the event in 2010. The association was created in 2003 to promote academic research into working-class life as well as working class cultural promotion..

“Working-class studies, as you might guess from its name tends to attract a lot of working class academics,” said Varga. “I also think it’s appropriate that we host it somewhere in the Midwest this year  because the Midwest is really on the map as far as working class life and changes in working-class politics.”

The association’s conference draws scholars from a number of different disciplines, including those who study contemporary labor politics and what’s going on with the last election; historians who study working class organizations and a lot of people we attract are from English departments who student working class on film, how are they represented on television, the new cable TV shows.

Varga expects the conference will draw about 150 people, a mixture of academics, labor activists and people who are just interested in the topic. About 75 people have signed up as presenters. “We have a strong presence in England, some scholars from Turkey, where there was a strong labor movement that is now under attack. We tend to get a number of people from South America, where there is a long tradition of labor activism. Scholars from Australia, China and Indonesia are also expected.

“The whole idea of conferences is you bring scholars together and they share their work and ideas,” Varga noted. Not only does the conference try to foster communication between academics and labor activities, it tries to offer support and promote working-class academics themselves. A sub-section of the academics are people like Varga, who do not have an academic background -- his family were factory workers—so they find themselves trying to figure out a whole new environment. “For me and others it is a really different world than we are used to.”

“The conference is a little more relaxed than some academic conferences. We are not as rigid and we try to have more fun. We try to encourage one another.” The conference will also focus on working-class students and what can be done to help them through their college experience. To that end, the conference can be attended by IU students who want to attend at no cost as long as they register at the conference.

One major area the conference will look at is the last election and the support President Donald Trump has from the working-class, which Varga sees as less than true representation for those hoping for change. The topic in general has been a subject going back some years so the outcome of the 2016 election was not shocking, but it was disappointing, he noted.

 “I think we have three panels just on that topic,” Varga said of this year’s conference. “I hope we have some good conversations come out of it and people will recognize that we need to do going forward so that working-class people have representation and not false representation that we see in someone like Trump.”

To find out more about the conference.