The Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies supports students and faculty at the University of Washington in the study of labor in all of its facets. Through education and research, our mission is to develop labor studies - broadly conceived to include working people everywhere - as a central concern in higher education. We cultivate connections with labor communities locally and around the world, and inform policymakers about issues confronting workers.
Labor Studies is interdisciplinary. Understanding how and why work is performed, organized and divided in societies necessitates multiple scholarly perspectives. It demands recognition that labor occurs everywhere under many conditions - at home, in the workplace, waged and unwaged, organized and unorganized. Conceiving labor studies broadly also demands that we conceive labor movements broadly - to encompass struggles against oppression and hierarchy based on race, gender, sexuality, citizenship status, nationality, ability and more, in their particularities and their many intersections.
The Center is led by the Harry Bridges Endowed Chair in Labor Studies, a faculty position that rotates every two to four years. Joining the Chair are three staff, an Associate Director, a Research Director, and an Assistant Director of Student and Community Engagement. The Center is located jointly in the departments of Political Science and History at the University of Washington Seattle, but works with students and faculty in departments and schools across all three University of Washington campuses.
Honoring a Legacy
The Chair and Center honor the legacy of one of the preeminent labor leaders in the U.S., the late Harry Bridges, outstanding founder and leader of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) for over 40 years. As a tribute to Harry Bridges' memory, over one thousand contributors, spearheaded by current and retired members of the ILWU, raised the funds necessary to endow a faculty chair in his name in 1992. In September 2001, in honor of Bridges' 100th birthday, the Center for Labor Studies was formally rededicated as the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies.
We build upon the legacy of Harry Bridges and the ILWU in our work. The ILWU’s longstanding commitment to pragmatic organizing, democratic unionism, principled antiracism, and social justice continues to serve as the touchstone of our mission.
Hundreds of University of Washington students enroll each year in Labor Studies courses, some choosing to earn a Minor in Labor Studies and many working in internships with labor and social justice organizations. Annual scholarships and fellowships support students passionate about the study of labor. When our students graduate, many go on to be part of the labor movement.
Supporting Labor Research
Labor research is an essential part of the Bridges Center’s mission. More than sixty faculty members affiliated with the Center conduct research on subjects from occupational safety to civil rights and union democracy. The Center’s grants and prizes have led to more than 100 publications that advance knowledge and pave the way for social change.
The Center brings people together from the academic world, the labor movement, and the community to exchange ideas and insights. We sponsor activities in the community in order to bring issues of concern to the widest possible audience. Our faculty are often consulted by policy makers and journalists seeking information about labor issues.
Labor Archives of Washington
In 2010, following a grassroots fundraising campaign within the labor movement, the Bridges Center founded the Labor Archives of Washington within the University of Washington Libraries. Led by a team of two full-time archivists, the Labor Archives works to preserve and make accessible the history of working people and their organizations.