Cornell University

Groat and Alpern Awards

621 Ives Hall, 607-255-6623

Celebration 2007

Alpern Award winner Paul Cole's acceptance speech

"In creating the ILR School in 1945, the state legislature said and I quote, “the object of the ILR School shall be to improve industrial and labor relations in the state.” As Dean Katz has pointed out, the issues that affect the world of work today are much broader than they where in 1945 and the ILR School must adapt to those changes to advance this new world of work, both on campus and in the extension program. While that mission is essential, I believe that it is imperative to pursue the original intent of the 1945 law. It is as important today, and relevant I think, as it was sixty years ago.

"You know, the American labor movement is the one institution that brings social and economic justice to our nation by enabling workers to have a voice on the job, in government, in their communities, and in a changing global economy. It is also a champion of worker and human rights around the world. You cannot have a free and democratic society without free and democratic institutions, such as the press, universities, political parties, and yes I would argue, free trade unions.

"It was the American labor movement that helped solidarity bring down the communist dictatorship in Poland, worked with the trade union movement in Chile to end the right wing dictatorship of Pinochet, and cooperated with the trade unions in South Africa to bring an end to the apartheid system. I’ve had the personal privilege to help build free and democratic teacher unions in Tanzania and Lebanon, and with Burmese teachers in refugee camps in Thailand; though it is important to point out that you cannot have a labor movement without successful individual unions who enjoy the right to organize and to bargain collectively. You can’t be in favor of a labor movement while denying the right of individual unions to exist. We know from the brilliant work of Kate Bronfenbrenner, that too many employers resort to a variety of tactics, often illegal, to deny workers the right to organize. That most fundamental of human rights is inscribed in the Universal Declaration of Rights, the National Labor Relations Act, New York’s State Taylor Law, and it's supported by virtually every major religion in the world. I would argue that the position of so called good human resource management policy, asserts that unions are not necessary or only exist if management fails, denies the fundamental point that only organizations that democratically represent workers can effectively represent their legitimate interest. 

"In 1902 the president of Reading Railroad, George Baer said, “the right of the laboring man will be protected and cared for not by the labor agitator, but by the Christian man to whom God has given control of the property in this country.” While in creating the ILR School, the New York Legislature firmly rejected the philosophy of George Baer and his modern contemporaries. The legislature charged the ILR School, to quote, “to improve more effective cooperation among employers and employees through instruction and research." That remains not only a legislative mandate, I believe, but a core mission of this magnificent institution. Now, the New York State labor movement represents more than two million workers, twenty five percent of the workforce, six hundred thousand union retirees;  it is led by the best state president in the country, Dennis Hughes, that I introduced earlier, and I believe has an absolutely superb staff.  Some of whom are being stolen away, but they will make an important contribution where they are.

"While advancing the world of work and expanding its mission globally, ILR is still the New York State land-grant school, and has an obligation to continue to serve our state’s workers and its employers. Of particular importance to us, is the continued role of the ILR extension in training a new generation of union leaders. That great labor lawyer, Clarence Darryl once said, “With all their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization that has ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for the betterment of the race, and for the developing character of man than any other association of men. So it is in that tradition that unites this great school and the movement that represents the best hope of this nation for a fair and just society.

"Thank you all, so very, very much."

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