California needs labor research and education
San Jose Mercury News
Labor Day is a time to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of working people throughout the generations. American workers are among the most productive in the world. And labor unions have been a positive social force that helped to build the American middle class, to improve wages and working conditions, to provide for health care and retirement benefits, and to ensure that the wealth generated by working people is fairly distributed.
But Labor Day 2009 finds the U.S. and California economies in the worst recession in decades. Bank failures, corporate downsizing, the mortgage crisis and tremendous economic insecurity are signs of the time. The United States has lost more than 6 million jobs, and California has lost more than 950,000.
In the midst of this crisis, there is also opportunity. The people of California and the nation are re-evaluating the economic policies that brought us to where we are today and are exploring solutions to rebuild the economy and address the problems of economic inequality.
This means the need for research and education on labor and employment problems is greater than ever.
For more than 60 years, the University of California has had a premier labor institute providing innovative research and education to address the needs of working people.
In 2000, the California Legislature voted to expand the labor institute to support research on all nine UC campuses. Research is conducted by faculty, graduate students and academic specialists and has attracted national and international acclaim. Policy makers, unions and business leaders grappling with the complex issues facing our state and our economy depend on the data developed through the program.
But conservative interests have attacked these programs, arguing that labor research and education have no place in the public university system. Not only is this an assault on academic freedom, it is also a distortion of the mission of the university.
The University of California’s mission is to provide education, research and public service. Its labor and employment programs contribute to all three. Public funding for these programs is only a fraction of what UC spends on business schools, agricultural education and other programs that benefit business in the state. The UC labor institutes serve a critical need in addressing the issues affecting working families, which are essential to sustain a flourishing California economy.
The labor institutes have analyzed a wide variety of significant policy issues: health care reform, green jobs and the emerging green economy, and California’s paid family leave policy. These programs sponsor undergraduate and graduate courses and offer educational activities for labor, business and policy professionals.
California’s economic crisis underscores the vital importance of research that addresses the critical issues facing our state. The budgetary crisis has put a strain on all state-funded programs, and the labor and employment programs have taken their fair share of the cuts. Fortunately, the programs do not rely on state funds alone, as they draw significant matching grants from foundations and supporters.
A world-class university needs to represent the interests of all the people of California, including the vast majority of its residents who are working people. On this Labor Day 2009, we should ensure that labor research and education will be maintained and expanded to serve the needs of California and our economic recovery.