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Steve Striffler is the new director of UMass Boston's Labor Studies Program and Labor Resource Center. (Photo by Colleen Locke)
October 12, 2016

New Labor Studies Program Director Discusses Human Rights, History of Solidarity with Latin America


  • Boston
Labor Studies Major, Minor Relaunched This Semester

The new director of UMass Boston’s Labor Studies Program and Labor Resource Center had one message he wanted audience members to take away from his first public lecture on campus.

“The labor studies major is open for business,” Steve Striffler said on Wednesday.

The undergraduate major and minor relaunched this semester in the College of Liberal Arts. Together with a professional certificate in labor leadership, the revived Labor Studies Program focuses on low-wage, women, and minority workers.

“I think we have a stronger academic program and we have a leader of unquestionable capabilities,” Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Winston Langley said before introducing Striffler.

Striffler, who most recently served as the Doris Zemurray Stone Chair in Latin American Studies and Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Orleans, spoke to UMass Boston faculty, staff, and students about his in-progress book, Solidarity: Cross-Border Alliances in the Making of the Americas. It explores the history of international solidarity between the United States and Latin America.

Mexico City, August 1968. From Wikimedia Commons

Striffler provided a brief history of this solidarity, which he says started primarily with women in faith-based groups in the 1950s and 1960s. It was the 1973 Chilean coup d'état and the human rights violations that followed that led to an increased interest in solidarity efforts. Striffler says churches were the only place in Chile where one could make a soft critique of the military regime.

“It’s astonishing how quickly human rights emerged around Chile,” Striffler said. “In the case of the U.S., discussions of torture were quickly disconnected from politics and economics. It was becoming increasingly difficult to be on the left and human rights started to make a lot of sense to folks. Even the people who agreed on very little could often agree we don’t want governments to torture their citizens.”

After his talk, Striffler took questions from the audience. Some asked whether workers’ rights as widely seen as human rights, and whether there should be a distinction.

“I think there is a tendency when people make those sorts of associations--often where it leads is we should focus on the most horrific and the most egregious and then move on,” Striffler said. “A human rights vision often leads to a very limited intervention on behalf of workers.”

Striffler also announced an upcoming celebration of the life of Professor Emeritus of history Jim Green, the beloved scholar and author who passed away from cancer earlier this year. The celebration will take place on Saturday, November 12 at 2 p.m. in the Carpenters Local Union 33 Hall at 750 Dorchester Avenue in Boston. The James Green Scholarship in Labor Studies has been established to support students majoring in labor studies at UMass Boston.