Cedric de Leon is a local activist, a former union organizer and a sociology professor at Providence College. He’s also the author of an important new book for anyone who cares about worker rights, living wages and even gender and racial equality. His book “The Origins of Right to Work” details their sordid racist history as well as how they prey on the dreams of the working class. He will be discussing his book and “right to work” laws at As220 (115 Empire St. in Providence) this Saturday from 5 to 7pm.
But wait. What is a “right to work” law?
Since the 1890’s through the 1940′ and 1950’s, “right to work” laws of various sorts have played on the racial fears of southerns and midwesterners. Today, says de Leon, they are sold much more covertly but still have a somewhat similar effect.
de Leon wrote the book after his home state of Michigan, a stallwart of the labor movement and where de Leon was the president of his grad student union, became a right to work state. “This is partly my way of dealing with it, which is to fight back.”
And fighting back, he said, is important because the Supreme Court is slated to consider a case that could effectively make every public sector union in the nation a “right to work” shop, if you will.
But he seems imminently confident the labor/progressive coalition can beat back the neoliberal attempts to destroy unions.
Originally a conservative from Canada, de Leon came to the progressive left after seeing rampant poverty in Mexico.
He worked with the United Farm Workers to “get grapes out of the Yale dining hall,” he said. “That was my gateway drug to the labor movement.” He also worked for SEIU 1199 organizing health care workers right here in Rhode Island. “It was my first job out of college
Years later, he returned to the Ocean State as a sociology professor at Providence College. He’s been critical of PC on labor positions and in this interview was critical of the Catholic college on racial issues in this interview.
de Leon doesn’t speak of any kind of animus lightly. He’s been the victim of a seemingly politically-motivated hat crime in Providence, he told me.
You can watch my full interview with de Leon here: