A panel held on April 6, 2013, at the 2013 Platypus International Convention at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The emergence of modernity was accompanied by the emergence of labour, its discontents, and the expression of these discontents. From the late 18th century to the present, these expressions have assumed many and often opposing forms, and these in turn have been absorbed by many and often opposing interpretations. The transformations of these discontents and of labor conditions throughout this, from the Chartist movement of the early 19th century through the socialist movements under Owen, Proudhon, and Bellamy at the end of the same century, to the mass strikes of the early 20th century, the emergence of the formally recognised and contractualised unionism of the mid to late 20th century, and the later periods of deindustrialization and neoliberalism, have in turn produced manifold interpretations of the role of the working class in society, as well as of the destiny of the labour struggle among other struggles in history. These interpretations differ most critically in their consideration of the relation of the labour struggle to the struggle for an emancipatory politics, that is, the constitution of the Left, and to the struggle for emancipation ultimately, that is, the pursuit of Utopia.
This panel will consider the development of these interpretations throughout history by exploring interpretations of labour on the Left in the present. We seek to interrogate both the relation of labor to other struggles on the Left and its once-Utopian visions of a world fundamentally transformed. We ask our speakers to engage not just with the labor movement, its limitations and prospects as they are today, and with the experience they have of it, but with the labor movement as it once was and as it could be again.