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Whose City? Labor and the Right to the City Movements

February 26, 2011  |  Humanities Lecture Hall, Room 206


A one-day conference at the University of California Santa Cruz
Sponsored by the Center for Labor Studies & Urban Studies Research Cluster

The right to the city is…far more than a right of individual access to the resources that the city embodies: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city more after our heart’s desire. It is, moreover, a collective rather than an individual right since changing the city inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power over the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake ourselves and our cities is…one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights. – David Harvey, 2008

Workers, environmentalists, and urban social movements have recently converged under a new banner: “the right to the city.” The phrase refers to the right of city dwellers—now the world’s majority—to democratically control development and resources in the cities in which they live .  In today’s global economy, this “right” is profoundly challenged.  Social divisions are experienced increasingly in spatial terms—through gentrified housing markets and polarized job markets; unequal access to green space and unequal exposure to environmental risk; new modes of segregation and policing public space. Against this backdrop, the process of urbanization itself has become a site of political contestation, and the fight for the “right to the city” both a critique and call to organize. Bringing together leading scholars, practitioners, and activists from across California and the U.S., “Whose City?” will provide an opportunity to think critically and creatively about these emerging coalitions—from their historic roots to their possible futures, from their major challenges to their major victories, from their local to their global manifestations.

Panels & Speakers

Keynote: Whose City?

David Harvey, Distinguished Professor, City University of New York

I. Cities for People or Profit? Wage, Housing, and Economic Justice Campaigns

Urban development is now a primary engine of economic growth and profit-making across the U.S. and globally. Yet the benefits of this growth are not equally shared. Rather, cities have become centers of extreme inequality. Rents and property values soar in some cities, waves of foreclosure devastate others. Wages, subsidized housing, unionized jobs, and city services are cut across the board. In response, urban social movements and labor groups turn to battles for living wages, community benefits agreements, and housing rights.

Gilda Haas, Founder, Strategic Action for a Just Economy; Co-Founder Right to the City national alliance: “Beyond Campaigns: Inequality, Popular Education, and Transformation”

Nari Rhee, Associate Academic Specialist, UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research & Education: “What Does Labor Bring to the Politics of Place?  Unions and the Right to the City movement in Silicon Valley”  

Stephanie Luce, Associate Professor of Labor Studies, Murphy Institute, CUNY: “From Just Economics to Economic Justice: Taking Wage Campaigns to the Next Level”

Gretchen Purser, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Syracuse University:  “The Spectre and Spectacle of Eviction: Rethinking America’s Housing Crisis”

II. Cities of Nature: From Environmental Justice to Green Jobs

Urban growth transforms nature; the forces of nature reshape the city.  Rampant urban development has made this age-old dynamic increasingly unsustainable, contributing to global warming, species extinction, water scarcity, and toxic pollution. Meanwhile, these conditions exacerbate inequalities of race and class, in the US and globally.  Through coalitions of labor, urban, and green movements, these conditions have also become the target of campaigns for environmental justice, sustainable development, and green jobs.

Jon Zerolnick, Research Director, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE): “The Clean and Safe Ports Campaign: False dichotomies and the Underground Economy versus Coalition-building and the Power of Local Government”

Jeff Rickert, National Policy Director, Green For All and former Director, AFL-CIO Center on Green Jobs: “A Brief History of the Green Jobs Movement”

Kevin Danaher, Co-Founder of Global Exchange, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Producer of the Green Festivals: “The Green Economy is the Future”

Melissa Checker, Assistant Professor of Urban Studies, Queens College, City University of New York: “What Do You Mean by Green?’: Green Jobs in a Greed Economy,”

III. Rights to the Global City: Race, Class, Gender and Citizenship across Borders

Immigrant rights, as well as racial, ethnic, and gender equality, have long been central issues of urban justice, and today only more so.  From day laborers to low paid service workers, the men and women who sustain the global economy and build our cities are often marginalized by immigration status, language, culture, and identity. This has motivated creative alliances between immigrant rights, human rights, and labor movements, highlighting links between identity, citizenship, and the right to the city.

Faranak Miraftab, Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign: l“Global Restructuring of Social Reproduction and What it Means for the Right to the City Movements:Observations in a Transnational Packing Town in the Midwest.”

Joshua Bloom, PhD Candidate in Sociology, UCLA: “Ally to Win: Black Community Leaders and SEIU’s LA Security Unionization Campaign.“

Gihan Perera, Director, Miami Worker Center, co-founder RTTC national alliance

Gerardo Dominguez, Organizer, United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 5: “Immigrant Mercado Workers’ Struggle to Bring Justice to the Workplace”

For more information:

Staff support provided by the Institute for Humanities Research


February 26, 2011


Humanities Lecture Hall, Room 206
UCSC Humanities Lecture Hall, 1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95064 United States
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