Prominent Journal Honors Politics Professor in a Symposium
Joining the ranks of several other professors who received commendations in their respective fields this semester, Professor of Politics and Department Chair Chris Howell recently received the Labor History book prize for his book Trade Unions and the State: The Construction of Industrial Relations Institutions in Britain, 1890-2000.
Trade Unions and the State examines the role of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and her successor Tony Blair, in transforming industrial relations in Britain.
Labor History is a prominent journal for historical scholarship on global labor issues. Each year it recognizes one book as “the best single volume on labor issues, historical or contemporary, in the U.S. or worldwide, regardless of discipline.” In addition to the award, the journal honors Howell and his work in a two-part symposium in the May 2006 issue. The issue includes a collection of essays by five well-known labor scholars exploring specific elements of the book, as well as Howell’s responses to these perspectives. He also will receive a monetary prize.
“It was a total surprise,” Howell said. “The thing about publications is that there is such a lag time from when a book is published to when a publication recognizes it, so you forget about. Two years ago I wrote a book — somebody read it.”
The main body of Howell’s academic work centers on issues of labor. He explained that this interest developed by way of two definitive experiences.
“There were two events when I began graduate school that were really significant for me and my work,” Howell said. “I had just come to [Yale University] from Britain, where the minors’ strike was going on. I had friends involved in the strike who played a large part in shaping that movement.
“In the fall of 1984 at Yale, there was a semester-long strike of clerical and technical workers,” he continued. “No one crossed the picket lines, and professors held classes at their houses. These experiences were more important than any theoretical political readings I could do.”
Howell has also been involved in labor politics on an activist level. He has worked on projects with Jobs with Justice in Cleveland and Lorain County where he investigated abuses of worker rights and loss of pension and health benefits for Lorain steel workers. He has also been involved with the College’s two major unions around labor issues and contract negotiations. Today, he still serves as a board member for the advocacy think tank Policy Matters Ohio.
“For me, my academic work comes out of my politics and activism. I can’t imagine doing any other kind of research other than labor because that’s what I care about,” Howell said. “I wanted to do something other than just write about labor issues. I wanted to change the labor situation on the ground rather than just contributing to scholarship.
“But I am proud of my scholarship, and I like to think it has had an
impact outside of academia,” he concluded.