UMass Boston

The Boston Labor Conference



 Labor and the State Today

 Questions of whether and how organized workers should engage the state are as old as the labor movement, but the pitfalls and possibilities of this engagement have been particularly stark in 2023. Amid a generational upsurge in militant labor action a sitting president joined a picket line for the first time, just months after the Supreme Court reaffirmed its willingness to dismantle settled labor law on behalf of its billionaire benefactors. The most labor-friendly NLRB in decades has supported a wave of new union elections while Amazon and Starbucks brazenly flout the Board’s limited power to punish union busting. Labor-led coalitions have elected progressive city councilors and mayors promising reinvestment in the public good, even as the far right works to strip elected representatives of power and entrench minority rule through state-level gerrymandering and judicial chicanery. As the 2024 presidential election looms, the fraught relationship between labor and government is as crucial as ever.

At the eighth annual Boston Labor Conference, we aim to explore how labor has, does, and should engage the state to build working-class political power and to advance the interests of working people. We aim to explore these questions strategically and practically, recognizing that the fragmented nature of the US government means “the state” is simultaneously an actor – and almost always a hostile one – in labor’s struggles as well as a key arena of labor struggle. Working people cannot rely on the state to defend their rights or meet their needs absent independent organizing, and yet state action is often necessary to sustain workers’ struggles and cement the gains that emerge from those struggles.

We seek papers that explore the relationship between organized workers and all levels (local, state, and federal) and functions (executive, legislative, and judicial) of the state, and we conceive of workers’ needs and rights in the broadest terms. We are interested in electoral politics and labor law, but we also seek to investigate tax policy, regulatory systems, social welfare, and public goods. We welcome papers that consider labor and state interventions in housing, education, libraries, health care, and the criminal legal system (and alternatives to it). We also seek to interrogate the ways in which the restructuring of the state under neoliberalism undermines working people’s power and survival: through reductions in public services, attacks on public-sector workers, privatization of public functions, and ever-growing debt burdens on individuals and social institutions. We hope to consider both how to engage the state as it is and how to transform the state in the service of working people.

To submit a proposal to give a presentation at the Boston Labor Conference on March 30th (2024), please send a (a) two-page CV (or just tell us about yourself) and (b) one-page abstract of the proposed paper/presentation by November 30th to and

 For those outside of Boston, please apply for conference funding by including a rough budget of expenses to attend the conference.