Letter: Weakened Labor Center would hurt Berkshires

Weakened Labor Center would hurt Berkshires

To the editor:

The UMass Labor Center, one of the premiere labor centers in the country, is under attack. Administrators in Amherst have stopped funding for all full-time graduate students and all part-time faculty who teach required courses at the center.

The position of director has been cut from a 12 months work year to one of just nine months. The ostensible reason given by administrators is that the center must be a "revenue generator." So rather than being able to recruit poor and working class activists, regardless of race or nationality, the center's mission now becomes one of finding out-of-staters who could afford $60,000 for a two-year degree, a figure that doesn't include room and board.

The UMass Labor Center performs a valuable service, one that shouldn't be judged by how much revenue it brings into a university system increasingly starved of public funds. Labor education acts as a powerful counterweight to the political and economic forces that keep so many in dire straits.

Besides training students in research, organizing and collective bargaining, the center historically has done outreach throughout the commonwealth, much like the extension division of the university's Center for Agriculture. In 1966, two years after the Labor Center was founded, the president of a new production union at Sprague Electric in North Adams, Walter Woods, reached out to the center's first director Harvey Friedman.

The union had never done labor education, but now, two center associates traveled to North Adams to set up a training program for stewards and officers. And for the next five or six years, the center continued to teach those programs in 12 week sessions.

On into the 1980s and beyond, the center has sponsored steward training and labor history classes for Berkshire residents. Its directors have made presentations and interacted with students and faculty at MCLA, and MCLA graduates have gone on to receive Masters degrees at the Amherst center.

Eagle readers — including state Sen. Ben Downing, his soon-to-be successor Adam Hinds, and the entire county delegation — should contact the UMass administrators most responsible for the Labor Center's uncertain footing: Sociology Department Chair, Michelle Budig: budig@umass.edu; Dean John Hird: jhird@umass.edu; and Provost Katherine Newman: ksnewman@umass.edu. Tell them that to destroy the UMass Labor Center would harm the future of labor in our region.

Maynard Seider Philadelphia, Maynard Seider is a professor emeritus of sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.


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