Exploring the Labor Strike as a Portal for Freedom

The last year-and-a-half has seen a dramatic increase in the number of labor strikes around the world.

Farmers in India have staged massive work stoppages to oppose devastating federal farm legislation.

Women in Mexico have led a nationwide strike to protest femicide.

The people of Haiti have undertaken a general strike against government corruption.

Sabina Vaught headshotSabina Vaught, professor and chair of the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Leading at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, sees these uprisings—and labor strikes in general—as potential portals to freedom.

“By abruptly halting business-as-usual, the labor strike questions what is and imagines what might be,” says Vaught. “It is a portal that leads to a future transformed by workers. And at the heart of that transformation is collective knowledge in action.”

Vaught is co-leading a new project titled “Reimagining Educational Work for Collective Freedom: The Labor Strike as a Portal” that is intended to generate new study and dialogue on the subject.

The new academic undertaking, which is expected to begin in spring 2022 and last for nine months, will create a new study group and a globally focused symposium series.

The Interrelationship of Freedom Work and Labor Strikes

Joining Vaught in this work are two co-principal investigators: T. Elon Dancy II, Helen Faison Chair in Urban Education and executive director of the Center for Urban Education (CUE) at Pitt Education, and Nancy Glazener, professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies (GSWS) and director of Pitt’s GSWS program.

Elon Dancy headshot“This project is timely in a local context,” says Dancy. “As an Underground Railroad location and a Great Migration destination, Pittsburgh is a rich site of struggle around freedom and labor. Studying across peoples and time periods holds extraordinary potential to help us imagine the kind of world we want to see,” says Dancy.

He continued: “I am so excited about the many synergies of this project with CUE’s mission and current scope of work as well as the opportunities for deepening and expanding our local relationships.”

The Spencer Foundation awarded a $50,000 grant for the project as part of its conference grants program. Spencer supports projects that examine critical issues in advancing racial equity and innovative methods.

“These global strikes, combined with global uprisings for racial freedom, are occurring with an intensity and an endurance that we haven’t seen in a while,” says Vaught. “We wonder what they can tell us about education writ large and what they can tell us about study specifically.”

Study Group and Symposium Series

This project’s study group—which will examine the interrelationship of labor strikes and freedom work—will be composed of faculty members, students, and their dialogue partners. Applications to participate will be open to people inside and outside of the University of Pittsburgh.

Meeting monthly from April 2022 through December 2022, the study group will focus on reading, discussing, organizing, writing, and engaging with guest scholars and organizers.

In synergy with the study groups, there will also be three symposia offered over the course of several months.

Symposia will highlight scholarly and activist dialogue around educational features of the labor strike. Potential topics include carcerality, geography, Indigenous sovereignties, and migration.

“Our discussion is intended to be curious about the relationship between labor, strikes, one’s life’s work, and what is now a global, colonial system of schooling,” says Vaught.

Nancy Glazener headshotAdded Glazener: “Some of the most important work in GSWS involves analyzing how gender and sexuality operate across the globe within and against systems of oppression. This project offers a great opportunity to examine those connections.”

Vaught, Dancy, and Glazener are excited by the project’s potential to spark scholarly activism.

Most of all, they are inspired by the people around the world who are taking up the strike as a praxis for collective freedom.

“These moments are global articulations for freedom,” says Vaught.

Learn More

To get involved in the Reimagining Educational Work for Collective Freedom: The Labor Strike as a Portal project, please contact Dr. Sabina Vaught at svaught@pitt.edu.