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November 10 2011

Transatlantic Social Dialogue 2011

The Ninth Annual Meeting of the Transatlantic Social Dialogue took place on May 6 - 9, 2011, in Inzell, Germany.  This annual event was co-sponsored by Cornell's ILR School, the Hans Böckler Foundation (an ILR global partner), and the European Trade Union Institute.  Conference participants included ILR resident and extension faculty and graduate students, along with union leaders and labor researchers from both sides of the Atlantic.  Download the agenda here.

The Transatlantic Social Dialogue refers to a series of annual meetings – with ongoing research and collaboration spinoffs – that bring together academic researchers and union leaders on both sides of the Atlantic.  The main goal of the meetings is to foster collaboration and mutual understanding among academics, labor researchers and union officials in the U.S. and Europe.  As a result of these exchanges, Cornell ILR has developed increasingly close relationships with its European partners, creating research and educational opportunities for its students and international scholars.  

This past May, ILR faculty members Lee Adler and Lowell Turner co-chaired the event.  The meeting was kicked off with a roundtable discussion on organizational and strategic reform in the labor movement.  Jen Kern, from National Employment Law Project, discussed the public sector challenges in the US.  Dean Harry Katz discussed the history of the US labor movement and compared what is happening now to the anti-tax pushes in the 1970s.  Lee Adler portrayed the public sector as a major remaining stronghold for collective representation at the workplace, and showed how strength developed over four decades is under manifold attack.  In the face of current challenges the panel also saw opportunity for renewal, for example in the solidarity of police and firefighters’ unions with school teachers, librarians, social workers and other public servants in Wisconsin.

The second session explored the impact of the economic crisis on the Copenhagen climate negotiations of December 2010.  Lara Skinner, who attended the Copenhagen meeting with the ILR Global Labor Institute and a delegation of U.S. unions, discussed the various forces in play at this historic environmental conference.  Angelika Thomas, from the German Metalworkers Union, shared information on union strategies regarding green jobs and clean-energy technology in parts of Europe.  Panelists explored growing linkages between unions in the US, Europe and emerging countries, in processes aimed at developing trust and transnational strategies to meet the climate concerns.

The third session included lively exchanges on the struggles of trade unions in Ireland, Greece, and the US to maintain influence in the midst of national and regional declines in governmental revenue and solvency.  This was an especially meaningful presentation for the US attendees as they heard about the finer points of the Eurozone economic crisis.  The panel sparked a lively exchange about causes of the crisis and potential solutions.

The first day's final session considered the long-standing problem of anti-union behavior in the US by European multinational corporations that are union-friendly in their home countries.  Panelists discussed the tricky terrain that unions in the US navigate as they learn about European company policies and collaborate with European labor partners.

On the second day, young scholars, including ILR PhD students, played key roles in the sessions.  Harry Katz discussed transatlantic and European challenges related to restructuring at GM and Opel.  Marco Hauptmeier, a recent ILR PhD now at Cardiff University, raised challenging questions as a panel discussant.  Maite Tapia, current ILR PhD student, presented a British case study from her own research during a session on "Immigrant workers, union strategies and the economic crisis."  Denisse Roca-Servat, former union organizer and current PhD student at Arizona State University, gave a rich presentation on the campaign to organize car wash workers in California.  Lena Hipp, another ILR PhD student, stimulated discussion with consistently provocative questions.

The Transatlantic Dialogue meeting was timely and the contemporary policy perspectives promoted lively discussions.  According to ILR conference conveners, Lee Adler and Lowell Turner, the work of our young scholars stood out as a highlight of the meeting.  This was not only a chance to showcase ILR talent, but it also gave our graduate students special experience and the opportunity to network with experts in the field.

The Tenth Anniversary meeting of the Transatlantic Social Dialogue is set for May 18-20, 2012, at the ILR School in Ithaca.