Why This Conference?

Alice at the Great Wall of ChinaOn November 21st & 22nd, a conference will be held at Cornell University in honor of the anniversary of Alice Hanson Cook''s (1903-1998) 100th birthday.  This conference will expand on some of the most significant themes of Alice''s book, entitled, The Most Difficult Revolution: Women and Trade Unions (with Val R. Lorwin and Arlene Kaplan Daniels, 1992). Cook''s book focused on the experiences of women in unions in four western European countries: Britain, what was formerly West Germany, Sweden, and Austria. Divided into three broad sections, the book examined how working women''s experiences in these four countries could influence and inform the progress of union women in the United States. Following in Alice Cook''s tradition of linking historical contingency and contemporary issues, this conference will acknowledge the importance of her work and expand on several important changes confronting women workers and their unions internationally.  The conference will bring together academicians and activists from a wider range of countries, from advanced post-industrial to developing countries, reflecting today''s globalization of both corporate structures and the correspondingly necessary union structures.

The conference will  point up ways in which the interests of working women and unions either differ or overlap across such countries as diverse as member states of the European Union, Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Ireland; as well as emerging market economies in Eastern Europe and developing countries like South Africa, India, and Mexico.  The complexity of the issues surrounding globalization and its transformation of women''s workplace issues, make this type of exchange mutually beneficial to those from all corners of the world.  Three topics in particular will be examined during the course of the conference: (1) innovative models for unionization based on new roles for community-based organizations; (2) internal union gender relations; and (3) the correlation between women''s increased participation in their unions and enhancing workers'' voices in overall union decision-making.

This timely conference will afford the opportunity for scholars, activists, and policy makers from around the world to exchange information and compare ways in which new forms of union structures are emerging in response to the globalization of gender issues in the workplace. One of the main objectives of this international conference is the development of a common vision of progress for women and their unions in the coming decade that goes beyond rhetoric to the reality of women''s lives and their prospects for economic equality.

Intensive roundtable strategy sessions at the conference will provide a wealth of needed insights and experiences for initiating changes both in the U.S. and in the respective nations of international participants. Since nations have become so interdependent, it is essential that anyone seriously trying to promote working women''s equality approach the task with an international perspective. While each country faces different histories, social challenges and parameters, participants can learn from one another, thereby enhancing their efforts to create successful strategies to promote worker-friendly labor and social welfare protections.

Participants will include approximately 50 influential women and men of diverse views who are scholars, cultural leaders, NGO and labor union representatives from both the private and public sectors, as well as ILR and other Cornell faculty, students, and experts from across schools and departments.  The current economic recession globally raises serious questions about working women''s status and unionization. Consequently, the conference will bring together people with a vested interest in finding innovative approaches to current challenges of advancing women''s status in a labor movement that can reconcile internal union gender polarity and economic restructuring with the need for working women''s collective action. The participants will be strategically chosen for their ability to contribute substantively and creatively to the intense roundtable strategy working sessions (described in more detail below); as well as their ability to implement solutions within their own countries. This conference will aim to begin developing a much-needed international learning community on women and unions. In addition to planting the seeds for this ongoing exchange, the conference will promote a dramatic shift in our thinking on the interrelationship of working women''s issues and concerns, unions, social welfare and labor policies.

In summary, this conference will not only pay tribute to Alice Cook''s legacy but it will also continue and expand on her work into the twenty-first century. In today''s international climate of conflict and uncertainty, this proposed conference presents an opportunity for research faculty, forward-thinking leaders of the feminist and labor community, and policy makers to work cooperatively to develop a common vision for women and their unions.

Photo credit: © Kheel Center, Cornell University, All Rights Reserved

Last Updated: 10/12/2005