Pulsing with Life: 2024 Labor Notes Conference

Four women in red scrubs, of various races, stand, all masked, raising their fists in the air, some clasping one another's hands. They are at the front of a large crowd in the ballroom.

The record 4,700 conferencegoers were riding the energy of many breakthroughs won and new campaigns launched—above all, last fall's Big 3 auto strike. Photo: Jim West/jimwestphoto.com

Video Links

Scroll down for embedded videos. Thanks to Act.tv and More Perfect Union for their work to livestream and circulate these sessions!

Coming soon: more sessions audio-recorded, thanks to the Labor Radio Podcast Network.

The 2024 Labor Notes Conference pulsed with life—with a record turnout of 4,700 people, and a rising note of optimism because of the many breakthroughs won and new campaigns launched.

Since we last gathered, Starbucks baristas have forced their employer into national bargaining. UPS workers won a big raise and wiped out driver two-tier with a strike threat. Graduate workers are organizing by the tens of thousands. Independent unions are spreading in retail and tech. Inspired by the Auto Workers and the Teamsters, demands for more democratic unions are spreading too.

Above all, conferencegoers were riding the energy radiating from last fall’s six-week escalating Stand-Up Strike against the Big 3 automakers. Spirits surged further still as news broke Friday night that 4,000 Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, had won their union in a 3 to 1 vote—the first domino in the United Auto Workers’ massive new organizing drive.

In the conference finale, UAW President Shawn Fain brought a packed house to its feet, declaring that immigrant workers are our union family and not our enemy.

He called the Labor Notes book A Troublemaker’s Handbook his “other bible.” He hinted at an impending strike at Daimler Truck. And he insisted that the power to beat back corporate greed rests not in any union president but in “a united working class. That’s how we’re going to win.”

Italian metalworkers union leader Michele da Palma, whose foes include one of the Big 3, Stellantis, made a similar point. “Nobody will come to save us,” he said. “Elon Musk is thinking of leaving Earth and flying to Mars. It is us who, with our work, build the society in which we live.”


The conference featured 300 workshops, panels, and meetings—and most were full to bursting. Many covered practical skills like bargaining, grievances, job actions, and organizing. Others dug into how unions are fighting on major issues like two-tier pay, short staffing, privatization, A.I., and mental health.

A dozen workshops dealt with climate change—how it’s hitting us in the workplace and how we can take it on in our organizing. Four workshops and a meeting focused on Palestine, and many speakers across the conference highlighted the urgent need to put labor’s muscle behind the demand for a ceasefire and justice there.

Forty sessions were offered in Spanish or with Spanish interpretation, allowing the participation of many immigrant workers as well as representatives of Mexico’s growing independent union movement. Main session speaker Cesar Orta, from an independent Mexican union of auto workers at Audi, talked about the need to raise Mexican auto workers’ wages and to “keep U.S. jobs in the U.S.”


Union reformers were everywhere, from rank and filers just getting started forming caucuses and slates to those who have won office and are turning their unions’ focus and resources to member organizing.

Many workshops focused on how to build a caucus and how a democratic union operates. A hundred building trades workers met to discuss how to build more member-led unions that stand up to management. Railroad workers (BMWE) are pushing for one member, one vote elections, and letter carriers (NALC) are building momentum for member involvement in their contract fight. Grocery workers (UFCW) kicked their campaign for a fair vote on convention delegates up a notch, announcing a lawsuit against their international union.



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Reformers spoke in many main sessions: Portland Association of Teachers President Angela Bonilla, coming off a four-week strike; Des Moines Teamsters Local 90 President Alano De La Rosa, whose union built a bottom-up strike threat at Pepsi; Canadian commercial actor Kate Ziegler, part of a rank-and-file caucus battling a lockout; and Minnesota Nurses Vice President Shiori Konda-Muhammad, whose reform slate grew out of a massive contract campaign at 16 hospitals.


The Great Labor Arts Exchange teamed up with Labor Notes once again to weave music and culture throughout the weekend, with electrifying performances in the main sessions—starting with the Chicago Women in Trades Drum Line marching us in on Friday night—and workshops on using songwriting, poetry, visual arts, and theater in your organizing.

Conferencegoers enjoyed special preview screenings of two new documentaries, about Starbucks and Amazon organizing, each followed by a Q&A with filmmakers and the workers involved.

The Saturday fundraising dinner featured this year’s Troublemaker Award recipients: Massachusetts teachers for their illegal strike wave, the worker center Pescando Justicia (Fishing for Justice), and the UAW Stand-Up Strikers.

Many participants on their way into town for the conference stopped by rallies for the flight attendants at O’Hare Airport or for Trader Joe’s workers in Chicago, and buses took others to a Saturday lunchtime rally with Portillo’s restaurant workers in Rosemont.


Here’s a taste of press coverage of the conference so far:


Rebuilding a Fighting UAW

Rank-and-file activists and newly elected leaders are transforming the United Auto Workers from the ground up, after decades of one-party rule, passivity, corruption, and concessions. Get an inside view of the victories, the challenges, and the steps they're taking.

  • LaShawn English, United Auto Workers Region 1 Director
  • Luigi Gjokaj, United Auto Workers Local 51
  • Scott Houldieson, United Auto Workers Local 551
  • Facilitator: Alex Han, In These Times

Friday Night Main Session

  • Angela Bonilla, Portland Association of Teachers
  • Amanda Rivera, Starbucks Workers United
  • Brahim Kone, SEIU Local 26
  • Michele Da Palma, FIOM-CGIL (Italian Federation of Metalworkers)
  • Chair: Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes
  • Music: Linqua Franqa, Chicago Women in Trades Drumline

Saturday Morning Main Session

  • Quichelle Liggins, Hyundai Worker, UAW
  • Alex O’Keefe, Writers Guild of America
  • Kelly Henderson, Newton Educators Association; Educators for a Democratic Union
  • Shiori Konda-Muhammad, Minnesota Nurses Association
  • Chair: Courtney Smith, Labor Notes
  • Music: Canuck (Ben Duell Fraser, UAW Local 51)

Organizing the South

Rebuilding the U.S. labor movement will require serious advances in the South, long the area where unions have been weakest. Hear from leaders on the front lines of organizing at call centers, fast-food restaurants, hospitals, city and state offices, and auto plants.

  • Deondra Bridges, Maximus Call Center Workers United-CWA
  • Kellen Gildersleeve, National Nurses Organizing Committee
  • Naomi Harris, Union of Southern Service Workers-SEIU
  • Quichelle Liggins, United Auto Workers, Hyundai
  • Yuman Wang, Durham Association of Educators
  • Facilitator: Jacob Morrison, Government Employees (AFGE)

Black Labor Struggles over Time

Black workers have been and are an essential force in building a powerful and transformative labor movement. They also face the specific challenges of organizing while Black within unions and workplaces. Panelists on this intergenerational panel will discuss how they have taken up this struggle, what has changed, what remains the same, and how best to move forward.

  • Angela Bonilla, Portland Association of Teachers
  • Destiny Blackwell, Carolina Amazonians United for Solidarity and Empowerment
  • Margaret Cook, Communications Workers (CWA)
  • Willie Hardy, Teamsters for a Democratic Union
  • Lynn Marie Smith, Musicians Local 1000)
  • Facilitator: Paul Prescod, Teamsters for a Democratic Union

Sunday Main Session

  • Alano De La Rosa, Teamsters Local 90 and Teamsters for a Democratic Union
  • Shawn Fain, United Auto Workers
  • Cesar Orta, SITAUDI (Independent Union of Audi Mexico Workers)
  • Kate Ziegler, Rank-and-File Caucus of ACTRA, Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists
  • Chair: Sarah Hughes, Labor Notes
  • Music: Beyoung Yu (Portland Association of Teachers), Joe Jencks and Lynn Marie Smith (Musicians Local 1000)

Great Labor Arts Exchange Concert

This concert featured winners of the Great Labor Arts Exchange Song, Poem, Drag, and Hip-Hop Contest, and livestreamed on the Labor Heritage Foundation's Facebook page. (Apologies for the sound quality.)

Alexandra Bradbury is the editor of Labor Notes.al@labornotes.org