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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

Higgins Labor Program examines social justice, labor rights

What are the origins of Labor Day? What is a just wage? How are racial justice and workers’ rights intertwined? These are all questions one might discuss for project or discussion group sponsored by the Higgins Labor Program, part of the Center for Social Concerns.

According to the Center for Social Concerns’ website, the Higgins Labor Program “sponsors research, education and dialogue on issues involving work, opportunity, and social justice” and was named for Monsignor George Higgins, a priest and laborers’ rights activist.

The program is sponsoring several projects and groups this semester to investigate both contemporary and historical labor rights’ issues. Dan Graff, professor of history and director of the Higgins Labor Program, said he and Clemens Sedmak, a visiting professor of community engagement at the Center for Social Concerns, are forming a working group to study the just wage. The program will also sponsor research about the past of the labor rights movement and its Catholic roots, he said.

“The U.S. labor movement historically has had a really strong Catholic component to it, and still many labor leaders in the United States are practicing or raised Roman Catholic,” Graff said. “The Higgins Labor Program is in the very beginnings of undertaking a project to do an oral history of Catholic labor leaders.”

In addition to these projects, the program sponsors the Labor Café, a discussion group that meets to discuss issues facing modern day laborers, Graff said.

“The most casual program we run is called the Labor Café,” Graff said. “Every couple weeks on a Friday afternoon, anybody in the Notre Dame community gathers with interest in talking about a contemporary labor concern.”

The program also brings in speakers to discuss various modern-day labor concerns and share their knowledge as part of the Research, Advocacy and Policy Series.

“We ask a member of the Notre Dame community or sometimes a visitor to give a talk on a topic of their expertise over lunch, and we have two of those scheduled for each semester,” Graff said. “The two this fall both raise questions about the place of government in regulating in regulating the economy.”

The program also plans on participating in the racial justice events happening on campus.

“We’re going to do something, probably after the election — definitely after fall break — about some kind of black labor matters theme,” Graff said. “It’ll be participating in this broader campaign. I know student government is doing a bunch of stuff around race relations and promoting dialogue and equality, so it’ll be integrating with those efforts.”

Overall, the program seeks to remind people of the importance of work and its human face, Graff said.

“We cast our net widely,” he said. “A lot of our efforts are around educating folks, reminding people of the centrality of work to the human condition and raising awareness of that.”