Belabored: Los Angeles, 1992, Revisited with Tobias Higbie and Kent Wong

Belabored: Los Angeles, 1992, Revisited with Tobias Higbie and Kent Wong

On working-class Los Angeles before and after the civil unrest of 1992—and how structural inequities continue to shape the city’s labor struggles from the classrooms to the docks.

A protest in Los Angeles, California, on April 30, 1992. (Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)

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Almost exactly thirty-one years ago, Los Angeles was burning as several days of civil unrest erupted in the wake of the acquittal of the police officers who had brutally beaten Rodney King. It was not just an impulsive uprising fueled by rage at police brutality but a reflection of many years, if not decades, of a simmering urban crisis in which social disinvestment, deindustrialization, and deep segregation turned the city into an economically and racially polarized landscape, with the police serving as chief enforcers of a brutal social hierarchy. In this episode, we talk about working-class Los Angeles before and after the civil unrest of 1992—and how the city’s labor movement reflects and grapples with the scars of historical injustice.

The late Mike Davis examined the racial, cultural, and political divisions of Los Angeles in his seminal work on the city, City of Quartz. We revisit that text and the events of 1992 with Tobias Higbie, associate director of UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, and Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, to discuss how the city’s structural inequities continue to shape its labor struggles in sectors from the classrooms to the docks. 

In other news, we look at the Hollywood writers’ strike, teachers’ strikes across England with Vik Chechi-Ribeiro of NEU Manchester, African tech workers organizing, and South Asian Americans mobilizing against caste discrimination with Karthikeyan Shanmugam of the Ambedkar King Study Circle.

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This season of Belabored is supported in part by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.


John Koblin, Brooks Barnes, and Hollywood, Both Frantic and Calm, Braces for Writers’ StrikeNew York Times

Daniel Arkin, Hollywood writers go on strike after contract negotiations fail, NBC 

Sakshi Venkatraman, California is one step closer to banning caste-based discrimination, NBC 

Richard Adams, Schools across England close as teachers vow to continue strikes, Guardian 

Vik Chechi-Ribeiro, The NEU strike – Winning a rank-and-file led union, Notes From Below 

Billy Perrigo, 150 African Workers for ChatGPT, TikTok and Facebook Vote to Unionize at Landmark Nairobi Meeting, Time  

OpenAI Used Kenyan Workers on Less Than $2 Per Hour, Time


Kent Wong, Director, UCLA Labor Center

Tobias Higbie, Associate Director, UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment

Mike Davis, Realities of the Rebellion, Against the Current 

Cindi Katz, Neil Smith, and Mike Davis, L. A. Intifada: Interview with Mike Davis, Social Text

Ruth Milkman, Immigrant Organizing and the New Labor Movement in Los Angeles, Critical Sociology

Corina Knoll, Adeel Hassan, and Los Angeles Schools and 30,000 Workers Reach Tentative Deal After Strike, New York Times 

Sarah and Michelle, Belabored: L.A. Teachers Shut It Down, with Alex Caputo-Pearl, Dissent

Sarah Jaffe, What Rydell High School Can Teach Us about the LA Teachers Strike, Nation

Michelle Chen, Warehouse Workers of Los Angeles, Unite!Nation

City on the Edge, HERE Local 11