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Workers’ Inquiry and Education: Toward a Working-Class University

October 11, 2023

Sponsored by the Labour/Le Travail, Canadian Committee on Labour History, Labour Studies Program at Simon Fraser University (Vancouver), Mount Royal University (Calgary), and Faculty of Arts at University of Manitoba (Winnipeg).

Workers’ Inquiry and Education: Toward a Working-Class University

October 26, Thursday | 6PM - 8:30PM PT | Hybrid

Join us for the 2023 Labour/Le Travail & Voices in Labour Studies/Labour History speaker series at SFU featuring talks by: Steff Huì Cí Ling (Department of Sociology & Anthropology), Dr. Benjamin Anderson (School of Communication), Yi Chien Jade Ho 何宜謙 (Faculty of Education), and Katie Gravestock (Department of Geography).

Read more about the speakers and their talks:

Steff Ling - Decolonizing workers’ inquiry: From co-research to co-resistance (remote)

Bio: Steff Huì Cí Ling (b. 1991) is a cultural worker, labour researcher, and occasional critic and film programmer living as a guest on the unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh, and Səl̓ílwətaʔ First Nations. She is a graduate student in the department of Sociology and Anthropology at Simon Fraser University researching cultural workers’ perspectives on labour and property.

Abstract: How can labour research employ workers’ inquiry to account for the capitalist settler-colonial relations defined by the connection that labour exploitation has to private property and colonial dispossession?

Drawing from Italian Operaismo and Romano Alquati’s notion of workers’ inquiry as “co-research,” this paper examines the workers’ inquiry as a method of “co-resistance'' — a political position theorized by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson within her framework of indigenous resurgence.

By offering workers’ inquiry as a worker-led knowledge system, it is theorized as a means to forge politically conscious relations of anti-capitalist co-resistance in solidarity with Indigenous resurgence. 

Dr. Benjamin Anderson - Workers’ Inquiry and Redistribution of Knowledge Resources

Bio: Benjamin Anderson teaches in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. His research concerns the working conditions, industrial cultures and potentials for organizing in creative and cultural industries. His work has appeared in the Global Labour Journal, Labour/Le Travail, TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, and elsewhere. He can be found online at

Abstract: Over the past decade, the methodological approach of workers' inquiry has re-emerged as a powerful tool in working-class, labour research. Applicable in industries ranging from automotive manufacture to stock photography, workers' inquiry holds the potential to bring labour scholar/activists into closer connection with the workers and movements they support, particularly by redirecting funding, research expertise, and institutional access to the goal of supporting worker organizing and emancipation efforts. This paper reflects on 5 years of research with workers in creative and cultural industries, complimented by a review of recent developments in workers' inquiry globally, in order to highlight the ways in which radical scholars have used their positions to amplify the voices of workers while engaging in strategic research that has the potential to support workers' struggles.

Yi Chien Jade Ho - The Classroom as Activist Laboratory: Place-Based, Participatory Pedagogy and Community Organizing

Bio: Yi Chien Jade Ho 何宜謙 (she/they) is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University. For the past 9 years, Jade has been a labour organizer for the past 9 years working with precarious non-faculty teaching staff, contract workers, and migrant students. She also works as a housing justice organizer in Vancouver's Chinatown and with the Vancouver Tenants Union. Her doctoral work centers on developing a radical pedagogy of place through the lens of decolonization in cross-cultural contexts and the connection between place, land, and identity in marginalized communities in Taiwan and in Vancouver.

Abstract: In this talk, Jade will share reflections from conducting a place-based course that focuses on the efforts and histories of community organizing, migrant justice activism, and solidarity-building centering Asian (im)migrants in Vancouver. In this course, students learn directly from community organizers and also by participating in community organizing opportunities. An overarching principle of the course was that we are not just in the university to tokenistically learn about what other people are doing; we are all highly implicated and deeply a part of these movements. This could only happen by breaking the confines of the institution: we needed to go into the communities and places where authentic responsibility and reciprocity were being practiced. As a result, this process of direct participation in exploring migrant justice and migrant worker organizing enabled us to reveal and unpack Canada as a colonial project that depends not only on the erasure of Indigenous communities but also on immigration policies and temporary migrant workers.

Katie Gravestock - Organizing Department Store Workers in British Columbia, 1940 to 1990

Bio: Katie Gravestock is a PhD Candidate in Human Geography at Simon Fraser University (SFU). Katie's dissertation examines the relationship between fashion retail workers, clothing consumption practices, and urban change in Vancouver, BC. Katie is an active union member of the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) and was involved in the campaign to unionize Research Assistants at SFU.

Abstract: Retail workers remain largely unorganized in Canada. Although we are currently seeing a rise in retail unionization with successful campaigns at stores such as Sephora, Starbucks, MEC, Sirens, Cineplex, and Indigo, the unionization rate for retail workers in Canada has actually declined slightly, from 14.9% in 1997 to 11.9% in 2022. To date, there has not been a successful organizing drive at a department store in Canada that has paved the way for a sea change that unionists had hoped for in the years following the Second World War.

What can we learn from the historical struggles of department store workers and their efforts to unionize? This paper provides a brief historical analysis of unionization campaigns at department stores in B.C from 1940 to 1990 and examines why unionization efforts were ultimately unsuccessful during the heyday of department stores.