Belabored: Los Angeles, 1992, Revisited with Tobias Higbie and Kent Wong
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Almost exactly thirty-one years ago, Los Angeles was burning as several days of civil unrest erupted in the wake of the acquittal of the police officers who had brutally beaten Rodney King. It was not just an impulsive uprising fueled by rage at police brutality but a reflection of many years, if not decades, of a simmering urban crisis in which social disinvestment, deindustrialization, and deep segregation turned the city into an economically and racially polarized landscape, with the police serving as chief enforcers of a brutal social hierarchy. In this episode, we talk about working-class Los Angeles before and after the civil unrest of 1992—and how the city’s labor movement reflects and grapples with the scars of historical injustice.
The late Mike Davis examined the racial, cultural, and political divisions of Los Angeles in his seminal work on the city, City of Quartz. We revisit that text and the events of 1992 with Tobias Higbie, associate director of UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, and Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, to discuss how the city’s structural inequities continue to shape its labor struggles in sectors from the classrooms to the docks.
In other news, we look at the Hollywood writers’ strike, teachers’ strikes across England with Vik Chechi-Ribeiro of NEU Manchester, African tech workers organizing, and South Asian Americans mobilizing against caste discrimination with Karthikeyan Shanmugam of the Ambedkar King Study Circle.
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This season of Belabored is supported in part by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
John Koblin, Brooks Barnes, and Hollywood, Both Frantic and Calm, Braces for Writers’ Strike, New York Times
Daniel Arkin, Hollywood writers go on strike after contract negotiations fail, NBC
Sakshi Venkatraman, California is one step closer to banning caste-based discrimination, NBC
Richard Adams, Schools across England close as teachers vow to continue strikes, Guardian
Vik Chechi-Ribeiro, The NEU strike – Winning a rank-and-file led union, Notes From Below
Kent Wong, Director, UCLA Labor Center
Tobias Higbie, Associate Director, UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment
Mike Davis, Realities of the Rebellion, Against the Current
Cindi Katz, Neil Smith, and Mike Davis, L. A. Intifada: Interview with Mike Davis, Social Text
Ruth Milkman, Immigrant Organizing and the New Labor Movement in Los Angeles, Critical Sociology
Corina Knoll, Adeel Hassan, and Los Angeles Schools and 30,000 Workers Reach Tentative Deal After Strike, New York Times
Sarah and Michelle, Belabored: L.A. Teachers Shut It Down, with Alex Caputo-Pearl, Dissent
Sarah Jaffe, What Rydell High School Can Teach Us about the LA Teachers Strike, Nation
Michelle Chen, Warehouse Workers of Los Angeles, Unite!, Nation
City on the Edge, HERE Local 11
Sarah Jaffe is the author of Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt (Nation Books).
Michelle Chen is a contributing writer at In These Times and The Nation, a contributing editor at Dissent and a co-producer of the “Belabored” podcast. She studies history at the CUNY Graduate Center. She tweets at @meeshellchen.
Co-published with Dissent Magazine.