“Yes, we can!” – A slogan many people know. Though few people know that it is the translation of “Sí, se puede,” coined by César Chavez for the campaign to improve working conditions of farm workers in the 1970s. In this class we will take a closer look at working class history in 19th and 20th century USA and UK.

By engaging with specific events, people, and organizations, we will work towards a big picture understanding of working class history and make connections to today. Amongst others, we will use the Pawtucket Mill Strike (1824, USA), Mother Jones, and Florence Reece, who wrote “Which Side Are You On,” to bust the common perception that working class history and strikes are mainly men’s domain. Johnny Cash’sSixteen Tons” and the Sea Shanty “Wellerman” will be our gateway to look at the recurring tactics companies use to stop workers from organizing and leaving undesirable working conditions. We will also address sex work by looking at the Exotic Dancers Union. Together we will watch the film Pride (UK 2014) in class to approach the Miner’s strike 1984-85 and its connection to the queer community. Other topics will include: disability, health insurance, child labor, racism/anti-racism, slavery, corruption, and unpaid domestic labor.

Students will learn and practice analyzing various types of source material and gain a better understanding of the interconnectedness of labor to race, class, gender, sexual orientation/identity, and age. There are no preconditions for this seminar, except for an interest in the material and a willingness to learn and engage with it.


This class will be taught fully online via Zoom.

This class will be taught in block over two weekends. The reading will be provided via Moodle at the beginning of the semester. Please make sure you read all the texts before the block seminar.

I am aware that an online block class is challenging, therefore breaks will be frequent; student participation (speaking, writing in chat) strongly encouraged (not mandatory); and music, film, audio and video clips used.


Suggested reading:

American Social History Project (Roy Rosenzweig, et al.) (2008): Who Built America? Working People and the Nation’s History.

Kessler-Harris, Alice (2018, 2nd ed.): Women Have Always Worked: A Concise History.

Todd, Selina (2005): Young Women, Work, and Family in England 1918-1950.