The Rise of the Working-Class Shareholder: Labor’s Last Best Weapon

Barristers Hall
Monday, April 9, 2018
12:45pm – 2pm

Please RSVP here.

This symposium celebrates the publication of The Rise of the Working-Class Shareholder: Labor’s Last Best Weapon, published by Harvard University Press and authored by BU Law Professor David Webber.

WProfessor David Webberhen Steven Burd, CEO of the grocery chain Safeway, cut wages and benefits, starting a five-month strike by 57,000 unionized workers, he was confident he would win. But where traditional labor action failed, a novel approach was more successful. With the aid of the California Public Employees Retirement System, a $300 billion pension fund, workers led a shareholder revolt that unseated three of Burd’s boardroom allies.

In The Rise of the Working-Class Shareholder: Labor’s Last Best Weapon (Harvard University Press, 2018), David Webber uses cases such as Safeway’s to shine a light on labor’s most potent remaining weapon: its multitrillion-dollar pension funds. Outmaneuvered at the bargaining table and under constant assault in Washington, state houses, and the courts, worker organizations are beginning to exercise muscle through markets. Shareholder activism has been used to divest from anti-labor companies, gun makers, and tobacco; diversify corporate boards; support Occupy Wall Street; force global warming onto the corporate agenda; create jobs; and challenge outlandish CEO pay.

Webber argues that workers have found in labor’s capital a potent strategy against their exploiters. He explains the tactics’ surmountable difficulties even as he cautions that corporate interests are already working to deny labor’s access to this powerful and underused tool.

The Rise of the Working-Class Shareholder is a rare good-news story for American workers, an opportunity hiding in plain sight. Combining legal rigor with inspiring narratives of labor victory, Webber shows how workers can wield their own capital to reclaim their strength.

Professor David Webber suggests the drive toward pension reform will limit the economic and political power of working class shareholders in this New York Times op-ed.

To celebrate the publication of this timely and significant book, we have invited three distinguished scholars to comment on it. Professor Webber will respond.

Moderator: James E. Fleming, The Honorable Paul J. Liacos Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Intellectual Life, Boston University School of Law

Kent Greenfield, Professor of Law and Michael and Helen Lee Distinguished Scholar, Boston College Law School
Frank Partnoy, Professor of Law, University of California Berkeley Law
Jennifer Taub, Professor of Law, Vermont Law School

All – including not only professors, law students, graduate students, and undergraduates, but also alumni and the general public – are welcome to attend the symposium. If you have academic questions about the program, please contact Professor James Fleming,