The Harry Bridges Chair was created in 1992 with the help of over 1,000 gifts from individuals and local unions, particularly pensioners and active members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). See our about page to learn more about its formation.
A key principle of the ILWU’s union-controlled hiring hall, won in 1934 and still in operation today, is the fair and regular rotation of waterfront jobs among union members. In the same spirit, it was decided upon its founding that the Harry Bridges Endowed Chair would not be held by a single professor in perpetuity. Instead, the Chair is held in two-year terms, alternating between departments.
To date, the Bridges Chair has been held by nine professors on the three University of Washington campuses in Seattle, Tacoma, and Bothell. Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of Labor Studies itself, each Chair has brought with them their own particular strengths, interests and abilities, establishing new programs and building upon what has come before. Most importantly, while Chair they serve as the public face of Labor Studies at the University of Washington – reaching out to the community, speaking to the media, offering expert testimony to government, writing op-eds, and more.
KIM ENGLAND, 2018-PRESENT
Our current chair is Professor of Geography Kim England. England is the ninth University of Washington Professor to hold the Bridges chair, the first geographer, and the first whose research and teaching centers on women and caring labor.
Kim’s research, including work funded by the Bridges Center, focuses on the relationships between care, paid work and the home, and the interconnections between inequalities, social reproduction and the state. She explores the shifting contours of care work, welfare, and the meanings of home associated with neoliberal social policy reforms.
Kim’s past work with the Bridges Center, representing over a decade of critical and interdisciplinary research, has regularly produced opportunities for community engagement. From 2006 to 2009, she co-led a Center-funded working group on Race, Class and Work-Life Balance, which produced an academic conference, community events, and additional interdisciplinary research to study how race, ethnicity and class shape individuals’ and families’ ability to balance work and care responsibilities.
England comes to the position at an inauspicious political time for labor with heightened attacks on workers’ rights, as evidenced by the two 2018 Supreme Court cases (Janus Vs AFSCME and Epic Systems Vs Lewis.) But she also recognizes that in many ways this a hopeful moment, recalling how UW campus has seen a growing interest in labor issues and in labor activism, in recent years. England is proud to be able to support and foster these students during her tenure as chair. As Bridges Chair, Kim also plans to continue and extend her work with graduate and undergraduate students and with the broader labor community, as well as advance the Center’s mission as it pertains to caring labor.
In line with these goals, in Spring 2019 she oversaw a series of events called Engaging Care which focused on various aspects of care work. The Engaging Care series consisted of several interconnected events, including a lecture, film screening, and two workshares dedicated to the politics, processes, and ethics of care work. The central piece was “Taking Care: a conference for engaging the politics, processes, and ethics of care work.” This conference, which included many Harry Bridge’s Center fellows, brought together researchers from across the US and Canada, who broadly engage with care theory in their work to help us understand care in new ways.
MICHAEL McCANN, 2014-2018
McCann took over as chair in 2014 after having had a relationship with the Bridges Center since its inception, often serving on its Standing Committee. A member of the Department of Political Science, McCann’s expertise and interests lie in the politics of rights and rights-based struggles for social justice, with an emphasis on challenges to race, gender, and class hierarchies. A prolific scholar in the history of labor, McCann is author of over sixty article-length publications and author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of eight books, including Rights at Work: Pay Equity Reform and the Politics of Legal Mobilization (Chicago, 1994) and his forthcoming publication with George Lovell (HBCLS Chair 2012-2014) on Filipino cannery workers.
During his four years at the helm McCann sought to expose and redress the radical economic inequalities he saw in America, building on the theme of ‘working democracy,’ that had been coined by his predecessor George Lovell. This included the sponsorship of a variety of talks, colloquia, and public events to carry on these discussions and to focus attention on the dire needs for both new public policies and strengthened movements for working people. In March 2018, McCann hosted the Reimagining Solidarity event, a daylong conference dedicated to conversations among local activists on ways to join commitments and collaborate on transformative projects fighting for social justice, racial justice, gender justice, and workers’ empowerment.
His tenure was also an important time for the Labor Archives of Washington which in 2014 secured permanent financial support for the full time hire of devoted labor archivist, Conor Casey and an assistant archivist, Crystal Rodgers. In 2015 the archives also kicked-of an ambitious new research endeavor: The SeaTac-Seattle Minimum Wage Campaign History Project. The now completed web archive features over seventy interviews, hundreds of pictures and videos, and extensive links to media coverage documenting the two successful historic struggles for a $15 minimum wage in the Puget Sound region. In 2017 the center also began a regular workshare colloquia series which continues to this day.
GEORGE LOVELL, 2012-2014
George Lovell, who became the seventh Harry Bridges Chair in Labor Studies in 2012, joined the UW Department of Political Science in 2001 and since then had been a longstanding member of the Bridges Center’s Standing Committee. A scholar of American politics, law, and constitutional development, Lovell brought to the Chair knowledge of how law has both facilitated and obstructed efforts by workers to exercise collective power.
Lovell’s first book, Legislative Deferrals, looked at organized labor’s legal reform efforts in the early 20th century. Focusing on the fight against the labor injunction, the book shows how enduring features of American government make it difficult for workers to exercise political power. His second book, This is Not Civil Rights – published during his tenure as HBCLS Chair – focused on unorganized citizens who sought redress for rights violations during the Depression.
Lovell took over as chair during the 20th anniversary of the Center’s creation and during his tenure oversaw several events to mark this important date, such as the Labor, Labor Studies, and the Future Conference, in Fall 2012. He also came to the position at a time of deepening political dysfunction and used his tenure to bring together members of the labor and academic communities to build practical knowledge of how to restore democracy in an era of enormous inequality and heightened attacks on collective bargaining and voting rights. In April 2014, Lovell directed the Working Democracy Conference: Labor and Politics in an Era of Inequality, a day of discussion devoted to fighting inequality. Nearly 200 people attended to discuss how major shifts in the U.S. economy were creating increased economic inequality, and how workers were adjusting and fighting back.
In 2019 Lovell continued work on his latest book, Union by Law: Filipino Labor Activists, Rights Radicalism, and Racial Capitalist Empire 1900-2000, coauthored with Michael McCann (who would succeed him as HBCLS Chair.) This work highlights the struggles of Filipino cannery workers in the Pacific Northwest, stressing the role of law as both a force of repression, and as an occasional weapon, for activist workers.
JAMES GREGORY, 2008-2012
In 2008, James Gregory, Professor of History, became the Harry Bridges Chair. An award-winning author of books on migration and labor politics, Gregory had been hired in 1993 in part thanks to funds provided by the Harry Bridges Chair, a time when few historians specializing in labor called the University of Washington home.
Prior to becoming Chair, Gregory had developed the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, an on-line collection of oral histories, photographs, documents and essays made possible in part with support from the Bridges Center. As Bridges Chair, Gregory would develop additional public history projects, including one on the Great Depression in Washington State and another on Waterfront Workers.
In 2009, Gregory was integral in having Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire declare a “Year of Labor Heritage” on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the 1919 Seattle General Strike and the 10th anniversary of the WTO protests. To observe the anniversary of the General Strike, the Center helped organized a discussion and commemoration at the Seattle Labor Temple. Most importantly, the event marked the kick-off for a fundraising campaign to establish a Labor Archives at the University of Washington.
The idea for a Labor Archives was first envisioned in 2008 when a budget-strapped UW Libraries was unable to process many new and old donations of labor-related material, leaving entire collections uncatalogued and inaccessible. Gregory, in coordination with the ILWU, ML King, Jr. County Labor Council, Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO and other important stakeholders, developed a plan to build a dedicated labor archives within the UW Libraries Special Collections. By 2010, thanks to the support of hundreds of labor unions, individuals, and a $150,000 matching grant by the ILWU, sufficient donations had been gathered to hire a full-time labor archivist and establish the Labor Archives of Washington.
While honoring labor history was his forte, Gregory’s term ended in Spring of 2012 with an event focused on the present: the Unemployed Nation Hearings. The two day event, hosted at the University of Washington and Seattle City Hall, brought unemployed and scholars together to discuss the on-going crisis of un- and underemployment that has failed to garner attention despite its scope. As a result of the dialogue started by their hearings, a joint committee of the Washington State Legislature held hearings on the topic in July 2012.
DANIEL JACOBY, 2004-2008
Daniel Jacoby became the fifth holder of the Bridges Chair in 2004, its first-ever economist. As a founding faculty member at the UW Bothell campus, Jacoby’s appointment ensured the Bridges Center’s profile continued to expand beyond the Seattle campus. An expert on the role of labor in higher education and an activist for the rights of contingent faculty, Jacoby’s agenda included making labor research a priority at the university and overcoming artificial barriers between professionals and traditional labor
Under Jacoby, the Bridges Center continued a tradition of hosting events to discuss the tough questions facing the contemporary labor movement. Drawing on Jacoby’s academic expertise, in May 2005 was held “Faculty, Organization, and Higher Education Policy: A Forum to Discuss Labor Perspectives on the Future of Higher Education.” It was followed only days later by a large collaboration with local Labor Councils discussing the shake-up in the AFL-CIO with the withdrawal of SEIU and the formation of Change to Win. Subsequent years saw other major conferences and forums on caring labor, the role of hiring halls, and the questions faced by workers in the midst of today’s technology-based “knowledge economy.”
An enduring hallmark of Jacoby’s term as Chair was an increase in the research capacity of the Bridges Center. In 2004, the Bridges Center began sponsoring “working groups,” unique research collaborations between UW scholars and members from the local labor community. Over the years, the Center has funded groups on waterfront history, union democracy, civil rights, white collar workers, and more. Additionally, Jacoby helped secure annual funding from Washington State for a special labor research program exploring labor-related issues in the state with policy implications. Since 2005, the Center has funded eighteen different projects through the program.
MICHAEL HONEY, 2000-2004
In 2000, the Harry Bridges Chair moved from Seattle to the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus with the appointment of Michael Honey, a founding faculty member of UW Tacoma and Professor of Ethnic, Gender, and Labor Studies. A renowned historian, Honey was known for his work on the origins of the United States civil rights movement in the Black labor movement. Continuing Margaret Levi’s engagement with the arts, Honey also brought his unique talents as a folk singer, regularly regaling Bridges Center events with traditional labor songs and spirituals as well as his own original numbers.
Following from his scholarship in civil rights, a consistent theme of Honey’s tenure became expanding the traditional boundaries of the labor movement to build community alliances and recognize marginalized groups. In 2002, the Bridges Center co-sponsored a conference on “Women of Color in Labor and Community Struggles” and a series on the histories of Latino/a and Asian American workers. In May 2004, UW Tacoma hosted the conference “From Chaos to Community: Strategies for Social and Economic Justice,” bringing together labor, faith, environmental and community leaders for an expansive conversation on social change. Honey also helped the campus develop an Ethnic, Gender and Labor Studies Major.
The labor movement came to campus in 2001 when, after years of organizing, UW graduate student employees went on strike to demand their right to unionize. The action resulted in the establishment of UAW 4121, representing more than four thousand academic student employees who work as teaching assistants, research assistants, graders, and tutors. In October 2002, to spread the conversation about labor rights on campus, the Center held a conference on “Campus Unions: Building For Our Future.” Sponsored by major campus unions and professional organizations, the two-day event was attended by several hundred people.
MARGARET LEVI, 1996-2000
On July 28, 1996 – what would have been Harry Bridges’ 90th birthday – the chair was passed to Margaret Levi, a Professor of Political Science held in high regard for her work in theories of democracy and the politics of organized labor. Over her two terms as Chair, Levi built substantially upon the work of former chairs David Olson (1992-1994) and Charles Bergquist (1994-1996), and helped to bridge the university and the labor movement while paying special attention to culture and the arts.
In May 1997, Levi staged “The Fight for America’s Future,” a two-day festival featuring music, lectures and workshops focusing on the history and future of the labor movement. It was followed immediately by a Labor Arts and History Festival at the Northwest Folklife Festival. Both events featured a performance by legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, drawing a crowd of 3,000, and the latter event featured the debut of the Seattle Labor Chorus, now a mainstay of the Seattle labor movement.
Major conferences and teach-ins became a specialty of Levi’s. A conference on “Metro Unionism” took place in March 1998, bringing together academics, community members, and AFL-CIO officials from around the country to evaluate the labor federation’s then-new Union Cities strategy. In 1998, she helped organize a three-day series of lectures and workshops called “STRIKES!,” commemorating the 80th anniversary of the 1919 Seattle General Strike and the 65th anniversary of the 1934 Maritime Strike.
Through it all, Levi continued to teach “Introduction to Labor Studies,” utilizing the class as a platform to educate on pressing current issues. In the months leading up to the November 1999 meetings of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, Levi’s class hosted a series of speakers on “Worker Rights, Labor Standards, and the WTO.” When protests at the WTO proved a landmark moment for organized labor, she spearheaded the on-line “WTO History Project,” documenting the events and interviewing the protest organizers.
Deepening the Center’s commitment to students, Levi used her Labor Studies course to launch a program of service-learning internships to send students into the community to learn first-hand with labor organizations. She also oversaw the establishment of the Martin and Ann Jugum Scholarship in Labor Studies. The scholarship’s first recipient, Ligaya Domingo, the daughter of Seattle labor leaders Terri Mast and Silme Domingo, was part of an informal cohort of students that, with Levi’s encouragement, inaugurated the Student Labor Action Committee – a tradition of U.W. student labor activism that lives on today in the campus chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops.
CHARLES BERGQUIST, 1994-1996
Charles Bergquist, Professor of History, was originally named, along with David Olson, to be the initial Harry Bridges Chair, it being left to them and their departments to decide who would go first. When Bergquist received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach labor history at the National University in Colombia in 1992, the matter was settled: Olson would be first, and Bergquist would become the second to hold the Chair.
A highly regarded historian of Latin American labor, Bergquist brought an international perspective to the Chair, along with a strong commitment to bridging top-notch labor studies scholarship with the labor movement itself. Prior to assuming the Chair, Bergquist had pursued these objectives through a series of seminars for graduate students and area high school teachers, some hosted with future Bridges Chair Michael Honey, to discuss and learn about working class history. As Chair, his outreach to the community continued, both with additional seminars, as well as a regular lecture series held at Seattle area machinist and longshore union halls.
Back on the university campus, Bergquist encouraged labor scholarship with the establishment of research grants for graduate students and faculty, and oversaw the Bridges Center’s second major conference, “Workers in the Global Economy: Organizing for a New Century,” held in May 1995. Two paper series were established, the “Occasional Paper Series” and “Comparative Labor History Series,” to publish and circulate scholarly papers on a range of subjects by established labor scholars.
Perhaps most importantly, Bergquist initiated “Introduction to Labor Studies,” a course taught with Sociology Professor Sharon Reitman, which sought to give undergraduates an engaging, approachable venue to learn more about labor. While other courses emphasized labor, they were almost exclusively upper-level courses available only to upperclassmen. The class became a major part of the Center’s engagement with undergraduate students, and the keystone course of a new Labor Studies Minor, also initiated by Bergquist. The class continues today under the direction of Margaret Levi, and the Labor Studies Minor has grown to encompass over fifty courses in a dozen different departments.
DAVID OLSON, 1992-1994
The first holder of the Harry Bridges Chair, David Olson, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington beginning in 1974, was already well-known to local longshore workers for his extensive research on ports. As a young man Olson worked as a Teamster truck driver, an experience that gave him an appreciation for labor that carried throughout all his academic scholarship, whether on urban politics or living wage campaigns.
A former Chair of the Political Science department, Olson was keenly aware of how the university worked, and understood the need to build a firm institutional foundation for the Bridges Chair on campus. In particular, he moved to establish a “Center for Labor Studies” to organize programs that would go beyond the personal activities of the Chair.
Reservations on the part of some in the University administration almost stalled the new Center out of the gate. Some thought there were too many Centers on campus already, and hesitations about supporting labor still lingered from the establishment of the Chair itself. At a tense, seminal meeting with top university officials, President William Gerberding again extended his support to the endeavor. In an exchange that, in later years, became one of Olson’s favorite anecdotes, Olson turned to Gerberding and asked, “So you’re giving us the green light?” Gerberding replied: “I’m giving you an amber light.”
Heeding Gerberding’s cautionary blessing, Olson infused his activities with purpose. He established a board of faculty to advise the new Center, the Standing Committee, and built a network of Bridges Center Faculty Associates, professors from departments all across campus, to ensure the Center had broad university support. In order to connect students with the Center, he inaugurated a student paper prize competition, awarding cash to the authors of the best labor-related papers written during the academic year. To remain in touch with the community, Olson oversaw the creation of the Center’s newsletter, christened “Building Bridges” at the suggestion of Jean Gundlach.
Olson capped his tenure as Chair in January 1994 with a special conference, “Harry Bridges and the Tradition of Dissent Among Waterfront Workers,” bringing together scholars from across the country to discuss Bridges’ legacy as a union activist. As part of the conference, a special statue of Harry Bridges was presented to the University by the ILWU’s Pacific Coast Pensioners Association. The statue today stands prominently at the entrance to the Suzzallo Library, facing Red Square, the very heart of campus. Later, in July 2001, on the occasion of what would have been Harry Bridges 100th birthday, it was decided to rededicate the “Center for Labor Studies” as the “Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies.”
David Olson sadly passed away in the September of 2012 at the age of 71. His enduring legacy is still felt at the center in the institutions he created and in its continued commitment to the labor community, and labor education, within and outside of the University. Olson was proud of his strong connection with unions and blue-collar workers, which came from his days as a truck driver delivering farm machinery across the country during high school and college. He remained a proud member of the Teamsters Union for the rest of his days.