Five Questions with Cedric de Leon - Director

LABOR CENTER: What do you do for the Labor Center? What's your role?

CEDRIC DE LEON: The way that I see my role is basically threefold.  First, I am here to provide leadership, direction, and vision to the Center in consultation with the staff, students and faculty. I also see myself as a facilitator for community, for our community to come together and make important policy decisions, decisions on programming. Finally, I see the heart of what I do being working with others to cultivate a new generation of progressive trade unionists, and in order to do that I have to make sure that our two masters programs run well.

LC: How do you identify or what identities do you carry? Who are your people? Where do your parents come from? What communities support and have supported you?

CEDRIC: I would say that I identify as a working class, immigrant, person of color, specifically Filipino. That’s why I have an intersectional approach to collective struggle. We can’t mobilize a social movement that leads to a better world unless we understand that the struggle of working people is also the struggle of women and of people of color. Our struggles are aligned and deeply interconnected. Not just now but throughout history.

LC: Where do you get your inspiration to do your work at the Labor Center? Specifically, is there a book or person who had the greatest impact on your thinking, trajectory/development, and work?

CEDRIC: I would say that there are two sets of people. One is an actual person named Stan Israel who was the vice president of District 1199 New England, the health care workers union in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. I have this vivid memory of working at 1199 and him giving a speech at a rally that was not even for our members but for the members of another union and he just completely spoke from the heart. He just stood up there with the sun going down behind his head and he gave this speech that inspired all of us. I realized then that I wanted to be a strong leader.

But many years later I became the president of my own local union which was Local 3550 of the American Federation of Teachers in Michigan and that was a very different model. It was much more cooperative. And I learned to trust the membership, to trust the rank and file leaders, to trust the staff and not feel like I had to know everything or make every call myself. That very much inspires how I approach my work at the Labor Center. I know I need to provide direction but that doesn’t mean that I need to do it in isolation or without very strong input from everybody else who is part of the Center.

LC: How do these parts of yourself (your communities, your inspiration) inform the work you do for the Labor Center? What do you see on the other side of political/economic/social transformation?

CEDRIC: Well, I can talk to you about what it doesn’t look like, which is that the New Deal was a kind of class compromise between elites and the white working class in this country and part of the compromise was that women, people of color and immigrants would be kept out of the industrial, social compact. And so the question that comes to mind for me is what would it mean to not leave out those important communities who are critical and just inextricable parts of working and marginalized people everywhere. What would it mean to have a social compact in which all subordinated folks had a say in the economy?

LC: What do you do for fun? And, if you could have dinner with a dead person, who would it be?

CEDRIC: What I do for fun is I play the Pokemon trading card game competitively with my son. It’s sort of like a bonding thing we do. I would love to meet Emma Goldman. She had a kind of irreverence for all social institutions and saw those institutions as impacting not only workers but also women so she’s sort of a pioneer of intersectional analysis.