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IU Northwest, IU Kokomo professors take political, cultural stand with book release

Collection of essays brings marginalized, oppressed voices of labor to forefront

In his lifetime, Thandabantu Iverson, Ph.D., has worn many hats, including that of coal miner, auto worker, steel worker, butcher, stage hand, cab driver and teacher.

Each one of these experiences has shaped Iverson indelibly, contributing to his passion for justice, his pride in his working class roots and his heightened awareness of the forces at play in the pursuit of equity in work. In fact, he proudly attributes his current scholarly work and academic career as a political scientist in large part to his diverse work history.

Recently, the Indiana University Northwest Labor Studies assistant professor and coordinator added book editor to his collection of titles, with the release of “Trabalhadores, Noves Perspectivas e Comparacoes,” a collection of essays written in Portuguese and English by both Brazilian and American scholars on labor issues.

Iverson defers a considerable amount of the accolades for the project to his colleague, William Mello, Ph.D., associate professor in the Labor Studies program at IU Kokomo, who invited Iverson to partner with him on the endeavor intended to bring oft-disregarded voices to the forefront of debates on labor and power.

Passionate about social justice, Iverson has much experience on the American social movement front, having been intensely involved in building crusades for civil rights, black political power, African liberation and worker empowerment. Mello was born in the U.S. but raised in Brazil, where he was an iron worker and labor activist. His research focuses on social movements in the U.S. and Brazil.

The two educators, who both have roots in ethnic groups they see as often being marginalized or oppressed, wanted to address what they perceive as a U.S.-centric way of interpreting and analyzing experiences of workers outside the United States. With their work, they hope to start a conversation from a vantage point much different than that of the status quo.

“We wanted to have people in Brazil have the opportunity to speak their own truth and say what they are doing and why they are doing it without having to look at it through the lens of U.S.-centered and European-centered experiences,” Iverson said.

The essays cover such topics as the absence and underdevelopment of labor’s capacity for independent organization; the impact of recent shifts in economic structure and public policies; the size and political strength of organized sectors of labor; elite forms of ownership and control; the history of trade unions in society; and much more.

Mello said the idea for the book came about two years ago while he was studying the organization of the Brazilian working class. He set out on a mission to advance the internationalization of his curriculum and opened the discussion to include scholars of different fields in different countries looking at different aspects of working-class organizations and working-class response.

“Very often, scholars from the U.S. have a tendency to avoid talking about some of the serious issues that working people from other countries confront,” Iverson says. “A lot of times as labor educators, we are working with people from unions who have a particular history with regard to power relations in this country. If we speak with complete candor about things, a lot of times, we create trouble for ourselves and we get into difficult situations because we are speaking to power. When you have to deal with power relations in this country, things are marginalized, obscured. We wanted to have a book that would open up discussion about what is happening in people’s countries and with people’s struggles and hear the voices of the people themselves.”

Through their work, Mello and Iverson sought to shun the role of “gatekeepers of the status quo” and, instead, consciously engaged others in thoughtful commentary that they hope will bring about a “culture of dialogue.” Less dominant cultures’ ideas are rarely understood and are therefore often dismissed, the editors say, unless exceptional measures are taken to foster understanding. That is what Mello and Iverson want to achieve – to get large numbers of people to speak, listen and think across boundaries and, ultimately, join in solidarity.

As the book’s introduction states, “(The essays) help us to rethink a broad range of conditions and factors through which political and social actors are exercising their individual and collective agencies to oppose the agenda(s) of neoliberalism.”

Neoliberalism, according to the authors, is a market-driven approach to economic and social policy that stresses the efficiency of private enterprise and has led to increased inequality between working people and predominant elites in the U.S. Mello and Iverson are interested in what workers are doing to resist a neoliberal corporate agenda.

“We invite you to join us and our contributors in furthering the dialogue,” Mello and Iverson write in the book’s introduction, “for we know of no other pathway that we can pursue to end the long, dark night of neoliberal domination.”

Iverson earned his Ph.D. in political science from Clark Atlanta University in Georgia in 2007. His subfields include comparative politics, women’s studies and feminist theory, African American political theory, and labor studies. He has been an IU Northwest lecturer since 1996. His dissertation is titled, “Serving in the Shadows: African American women healthcare workers in Gary, Indiana – 1980-2000.”


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Thandabantu Iverson, Ph.D.

William Mello, Ph.D.