June 18 2008
Danielle Newsome, ILR '07, does an internship with South African Labor Federation COSATU
In fall 2007 ILR International Programs Committee awarded two small grants to support international activities of members of the ILR community. The grants were designed to help international activities that involve multiple constituents of the ILR School (faculty, students, alumni, labor, management, governments). One of the conditions was that recipients commit to "public" deliverable (e.g., prepare reports that can be put on the IP website, provide abstracts of papers from conferences to be put on the website). One of the recipients was Kate Bronfenbrenner, Director of Labor Education Research at ILR. Please see the proposal (pdf). Part of the project was a student internship in South Africa. Danielle Newsome, ILR’07 reports on her experience.
In November, 2007, more than twenty South African trade unionists participated in a workshop on basic corporate research in Cape Town, South Africa, led by Danielle Newsome, ILR ’07. Planning and coordination for the workshop was done by Danielle while she did a semester long credit internship with the South African Labor Federation COSATU, in their office in Cape Town, working with COSATU Deputy General Secretary Tony Ehrenreich. The internship came about after discussions between Ehrenreich, Danielle, and Kate Bronfenbrenner, Director of Labor Education Research at ILR. Danielle had taken courses with Bronfenbrenner on research methods and advanced collective bargaining and had also helped staff the Global Unions conference where she had met trade union members from around the world including representatives from COSATU. She had also worked as a research assistant in the Office of Labor Education Research for two years on both organizing and strategic corporate research projects. Ehrenreich was delighted to have someone like Danielle to help them with a diversity of research endeavors, but one of the primary goals was to pull together a curriculum and training program on strategic corporate research appropriate for the South African employer and union environment.
The workshop Danielle put together was based on the strategic corporate research curriculum taught by Kate Bronfenbrenner through the Office of Labor Education Research at the ILR School, and was adapted to fit the resources available in South Africa. Danielle adapted the research guidelines to make them relevant for researching companies with a presence in South Africa, with a specific emphasis on identifying free sources of data. Aaron Brenner, an adjunct instructor working with the Office of Labor Education Research, came over from the US to assist Danielle in facilitating the workshop. The twenty union participants came from eight different affiliates of COSATU. The goal was that the stewards and full time staff who attended would then return to their unions and pass on what they learned to others in their organizations. For most of those in attendance this kind of research was a completely new experience. Many had very limited computer experience and few had done any extensive employer research before attending the workshop.
As Danielle explains “I was surprised at how much the COSATU organizers relied on the company as their main resource of information, but now I am very confident that they are able to use the skills they used from the workshop to find better resources for their campaigns.” The workshop evaluations were overwhelmingly positive both from the participants and from the leadership of the COSATU. Danielle found it equally rewarding, “It was such a great experience for me to go abroad and find out that I can teach what I know about research and connect with union activists on the other side of the globe.”
The workshop Danielle led was the second in a series of trainings that are part of a pilot program in strategic corporate research being run by the Office of Labor Education Research around the globe. In October, 2007, Wes Hannah, senior staff research researcher in the Labor Education Research Office, traveled to Sydney, New South Wales, Australia to develop a program in Strategic Corporate Research with the Australian labor council Unions NSW. The program culminated in a two-day seminar on developing new research strategies for Australian unions using an adaptation of the Strategic Corporate Research model. Held in Union NSW's main offices in downtown Sydney, approximately forty lead researchers from a variety of NSW unions attended the training. Later this summer, ILR MS/PhD student Chad Gray will be traveling to Brazil where he will be assisting unions in strategic corporate research involving some of the largest transnational firms in the metal and mining industries.