The Harvard Trade Union Program welcomed 38 trade union leaders to campus for the 82nd year. The program teaches a cohort of 35-40 students, who are provided a chance to get to know fellow activists and organizers through group discussions, workshops, and classes over the span of five weeks. Since 1942, the program has provided a unique opportunity for union leaders from the USA and around the world to share ideas that will shape the future of unions as well as build lasting relationships with key people in the labor movement. Not only does it teach essential knowledge about the global economy and major ideas about labor organizing, but the HTUP also equips students to be informed advocates and leaders at unions and in their everyday communities. Graduates of the program go on to hold many different positions within the labor movement ranging from leadership to essential activities in various trades and sectors around the world. The faculty at the HTUP includes renowned scholars in labor studies, law, and the social sciences, as well as significant practitioners in labor and community organizing.
The Center was excited to celebrate among family, friends, and local union presidents and members all the dedication, hard work, and passion the 111th class demonstrated over the course of their five-week studies. It was an honor to host Shawn Fain, President of the UAW, to address the graduating class. Fain delivered a powerful commencement address, reminding us that to live a life with dignity and respect is a universal right. He decried the growing gap between the wealthy and the working. Calling back to his own family ties to the Great Depression and struggles with poverty, Fain said that no one deserves to be a billionaire – especially when they profit off the labor of thousands of our working class. He made it clear: it’s time for working people to demand their lives back. Work should be a means to live a fulfilling life, not something that strips our working class of their time, their rights, and their humanity in return for scraping by.
Fain reminded the audience of the power of unity and solidarity as tools for social change – and that these ultimately are “stronger than the law.” Ending on a call to action, Fain said, “This is a start, a beginning. We’ve got so much work ahead of us to take back our lives. I can’t wait to get in the fight with you.”
The class elected two of their own to deliver speeches following Fain, both rousing calls for unity and for reclaiming our dignity as working people. The first elected speaker, Julie Hébert, health, safety, and environment coordinator for the United Steelworkers, reflected on her brothers and sisters saying, “I’ve been deeply moved for many different reasons by every single one of them, and could easily spend hours telling you how the people we met here have had and will have a profound and lasting influence on each other’s lives as a collective unit. Where we used to see “I’s,” may we now see “we’s,” to build the solidarity we absolutely need to tackle the challenges that will come our way.” Shamaiah Turner, business development representative and sheet metal worker at Massachusetts’s Local 17, reflected on our democracy and the rights of working people saying, “We now fully realize that the front lines of democracy take place on the job site. There are corporate goblins who believe that we are asking for too much, that we want everything for free, when we only want to contribute meaningfully to our society, enjoy those we love, and work and retire with dignity.”
2024 participant Matt Stafford of the International Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers said, “The Harvard Trade Union Program has helped me refine and sharpen my way of thinking in my role as a labor leader. Attending sessions on various aspects of labor with colleagues from around the globe has helped me realize that regardless of where you live or what type of work you represent, workers still struggle today and need representation from unions to help achieve the common good for all.”
Watch Sharon Block’s introduction and President Fain’s address below.