About International Comparative Labor Studies

The ICLS Program will support research, organize people-to-people international engagement, provide a forum for information and debate, and establish a curriculum at Morehouse College. The ICLS curriculum will emphasize student learning outcomes of analytical, organizational, and leadership skills that reflect awareness of philosophical, theoretical, and ethical dimensions of labor; the ICLS will also serve local labor developments, global unions, works councils, and other governance and education needs. The ICLS Program will promote apprenticeships and support training systems institutions, including working in conjunction with K-12 teacher preparation programs to enhance vocational and green jobs options. Through establishing strong relationships with academic, policy, and union leadership, both locally and globally, and organizing to enhance the research and community education capacity in the African American community, the Morehouse College Comparative Labor Studies program will provide relevant information and cogent analysis to our communities’ workers and corporations, government representatives, and civil society. It will provide career paths for students and economically enhance communities.

We envision beginning with three courses: a sociology of organizing today, a history and philosophy of the labor movement, and an upper-level quantitative analysis class. In the sociology class, we will match students and workers involved in organizing. The students will carry out videoed oral history interviews and shadow the worker organizer for a day and work as a group to present the workers and management issues in the industry. Workers receive honoraria. We will seek to collaborate with other HBCUs, colleges and universities, and develop a blended on-line capacity to serve all students. The CLS program will also seek funding to have Visiting Activist Scholars as well as Visiting Professors teaching in the program. Development of pipelines into union, vocational and green jobs careers, and collaboration with the K-12 education and sustainability minors at Morehouse is envisioned.

ICLS Curriculum
Politics and Protest

Course work in political science at Morehouse College was initiated in 1948 by the late Dr. Robert Brisbane, who sought to augment a traditional political science curriculum with an emphasis on more engaged teaching, learning, and scholarship.  “Black Protest” was Dr. Brisbane’s signature course, which he taught into the 1980s and which inspired generations of political science graduates in the Morehouse tradition of service and leadership.  PSC 100, “Politics and Protest,” is meant to give students a stimulating introduction to the study of politics and draws very explicitly upon the Department’s distinctive heritage, in particular the legacy of its founder.  The seminar uses the histories and living legacies of Black protest, in the United States and worldwide, as an entrée into the study of politics and political science theories and methodologies.  “Politics and Protest” explores, among other questions: how political claims and identities are forged through protest; how political agency takes shape within relations of power, oppression, and domination; how moral and ethical values, principles, narratives, and traditions foment or suppress political conflict and change.

Organizing for Social Justice: Unions and Black Workers (SOC 100+. FYE)

This course introduces students to African American and Pan-African working people’s experiences and their histories and engagement with philosophies and strategic political questions underlying the development of a global network of workers organizations, including principles of ethics and justice from different theoretical perspectives. These include the meaning of work, division of labor, hierarchy, cooperation and the role of the state. Philosophies of work and human rights, and social relations will begin with Kemetic society (Egyptian) and African culture, look at slave labor, industrialization and labor migrations, and investigate key questions for the future of work.

Senior Seminar (2018, Douglas and Jensen): “Martin Luther King and Racial Capitalism”

It has been nearly fifty years since Morehouse alumnus Martin Luther King, Jr. sacrificed his life battling in solidarity with the poor. King was killed at a time when despair, tension, and bitterness were widespread, when the confluence of racial and economic inequity had set urban ghettoes aflame. Younger generations are left to wonder what has changed. Today, American cities teeter on the brink and grassroots activists work to vivify the deadening vulnerability of Black lives. Indeed, today’s unrest extends far beyond the extrajudicial and state-sanctioned killings of African Americans. Key economic indicators reveal that Black Americans as a whole are no better off now, and in some ways are worse off, than they were a half-century ago. The Black unemployment rate is unchanged; income, wealth, and educational attainment disparities between White and Black Americans have worsened. While it is remarkable, given the history of pro-capitalist, market-friendly attitudes in this country, it should come as no surprise that the language of democratic socialism is again moving more squarely into the public discourse, and in ways that resonate especially among a diverse cadre of young people who are eager to think more clearly about where we are and more creatively about where we might go from here.

Few know about King’s socialist leanings. Recent scholarship has sought to intervene on this score, to reveal to a popular audience a less “sanitized,” more “radical” King. But even a recovery of King’s more radical or socialist aspirations can discourage careful consideration of the material and intellectual constraints that often prevent structural and behavioral change. Part of what is needed today is a sober and vivid account of the factors that contribute to the despair, tension, and bitterness felt among so many. In this moment, in this unfolding phase of the enduring Black freedom struggle, an exposition of King’s rich and evolving thinking about race and capitalism can provide valuable conceptual resources and an accessible theoretical framework. From his youthful engagement with Christian socialism and his initial reading of Karl Marx in 1949, King put himself into a lifelong “creative tension” with a wide-ranging critical theory of modern capitalism. Though King is often cast, some might say caricatured, as a dreamer, an idealist, a visionary, this course works from the presumption that King’s avowed socialist aspirations are part and parcel of a rich and underappreciated diagnostic critique of capitalism’s racial politics. The course will seek to expose key features of this diagnostic critique and to consider its contemporary application—both its merits and it shortcomings.

The course will also provide an entrée into the burgeoning scholarly literature on racial capitalism. In his seminal study of the Black radical tradition, the late Cedric Robinson argued that “the development, organization, and expansion of capitalist society pursued essentially racial directions, so too did social ideology,” that “as a material force… it could be expected that racialism would inevitably permeate the social structures emergent from capitalism.” Robinson popularized the term “‘racial capitalism’ to refer to this development and to the subsequent structure as a historical agency.” Though Robinson did not highlight King’s critique of political economy—opting instead to mine the contributions of an earlier generation of scholars, including W.E.B. Du Bois and C.L.R. James—King can be productively situated within this tradition, as a figure who factors the history of Black liberation struggle into a creolized appropriation of European intellectual legacies and who comes to regard institutionalized practices of capital accumulation as organically interwoven with racial partition, dispossession, disinheritance, exploitation, underdevelopment, in short, racial violence. While American (and global) capitalism has changed markedly since the Civil Rights era, while deindustrialization has led to a post-production domestic economy, ultimately to the rise of a more precarious, so-called “gig” economy, the core features of racial capitalism endure, as an analysis of King’s thinking helps us to see.