The Center for Labor and a Just Economy (CLJE) at Harvard Law School is a hub of collaborative research, policy, and strategies to empower working people to build an equitable economy and democracy.
Acknowledging the systemic failures and extreme concentration of power in our society, we are committed to reimagining the law and developing paradigm-shifting policy.
Decades of policy decisions in the United States have prioritized the interests of the wealthy, Wall Street, and corporations over workers. Corporations have expected more and provided less, contributing to the rise of inflation and creating an untenable power dynamic for workers – and have been rewarded by elected officials at the state and federal levels with lower taxes, less regulation, and more access to the powerful and connected. At the same time, the rise of globalization, a federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25, and the growth of corporate union busting strategies have undermined worker bargaining power.
But a recent restructuring of work during the COVID-19 pandemic – which catalyzed a shift from worker frustration and anger into action – has led to a resurgence of worker power.
There is new energy in worker organizing, epitomized by union victories at Amazon, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, and other companies previously thought to be “unorganizable.” Voters across the country are resoundingly approving increases in state minimum wages, most recently increasing Nebraska’s minimum wage to $15/hour and approving a minimum wage of $16.10 for tipped-workers in Washington, DC. In fact, a 2022 Gallup poll shows support for unions at a record high since 1965.
These dynamics open the door for US workers to find new ways to countervail the power of concentrated wealth and gain greater control over their lives and livelihoods.
The success of these campaigns also demonstrates the failure of our existing laws to serve the interests of working Americans. It shouldn’t be this hard for workers to win organizing campaigns and to convert those wins into tangible gains.
In this moment of renewed opportunity for workers, there is a need for new policy ideas to meet the moment. This moment of extreme concentration of wealth and power requires legal interventions that support countervailing power movements – starting with reforming labor law and then taking the learning from labor law to a broader range of movements.
The success of these campaigns also demonstrates the failure of our existing laws to serve the interests of working Americans. It shouldn’t be this hard for workers to win organizing campaigns and to convert those wins into tangible gains, nor should many of these campaigns have been necessary in the first place.
With renewed opportunity for workers there is a need for policy ideas to meet the moment. This moment of extreme concentration of wealth and power requires legal interventions that support countervailing power movements – starting with reforming labor law and then taking the learning from labor law to a broader range of movements.
The current political and legal landscape demonstrates the value of pairing support for grassroots action with long-term strategies. CLJE does this by:
- Identifying inventive policy and approaches to labor law
CLJE focuses on developing the breadth of innovative policy proposals needed to advance a comprehensive vision for the future of empowering workers.
- Connecting academia, advocacy, labor, and government
Housed at Harvard Law School, CLJE brings together scholars in the fields of law, economics, business, history and more with partners across the labor movement and all levels of government.
- Bringing an independent perspective
Working independently of labor policy institutions and leaders, CLJE explores diverse strategies to countervail the power of concentrated wealth.
Founded in 1942 as the Harvard University Trade Union Fellowship Plan, the first iteration of what is today the Center for Labor and a Just Economy was an intensive nine-month educational program for labor leaders housed at the Harvard Business School.
As attitudes towards unions shifted throughout the decades, the program evolved to meet the changing needs of the labor movement. By the late 1940s, this entailed shortening the program to two annual sessions of 13 weeks. In the 1950s, the program expanded its international reach, welcoming trade unionists from Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and Latin America. In the midst of aggressive anti-union action by the federal government in the late 1980s, HTUP relocated from HBS to the Harvard Law School, finding new direction and vitality – and in 2002 evolved to become part of a broader institution for understanding labor issues, the Labor & Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.
In response to the changing dynamics of the labor movement, LWP assumed its new identity as the Center for Labor and a Just Economy in 2023.