Cornell University

International Programs

117 Ives Hall, 607-254-7255


February 20 2007

2007 Transatlantic Social Dialogue Conference

Lowell TurnerThe Transatlantic Social Dialogue refers to a series of annual meetings that bring together academic researchers and union leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. The meetings are jointly sponsored by the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, the Hans-Böckler-Stiftung (an ILR global partner), the European Trade Union Institute and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Participants come mainly from the United States, Germany, Britain, and the offices of the European Trade Union Confederation in Brussels. Additional participants have come from France, Austria, Sweden and Ireland. Meetings typically include 40-50 participants and have taken place in Ithaca in 2003, Brussels in 2004, Berlin in 2005 and Ithaca in 2006, with the next meeting scheduled for Brussels, March 2-3, Lee Adler2007. The following is a proposal by ILR conference co-conveners Lowell Turner and Lee Adler as part of a request for funding. ILR International Programs is pleased to help support the 2007 conference.

Purpose and history
The main goal of the annual meetings is to foster collaboration and mutual understanding among academics, labor researchers and union officials in the U.S. and Europe. The main institutional underpinning has been the development of increasingly close relationships among the participating organizations. Relationships include sponsoring organizations as well as a variety of unions and labor federations who send participants on a regular basis.

A research project composed of five country teams studying comparative labor movement revitalization (in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Italy and Spain), organized from a base at the ILR School, laid the foundation for the Transatlantic Social Dialogue. The research project ran from 2000-2003 and included major conferences at the ILO in Geneva and the LSE in London. At the meeting in London in 2002, the directors of the European Trade Union Institute and Hans-Böckler-Stiftung approached ILR participants with the idea of a closer cooperation among our institutions. A few months later, the ETUI and HBS directors (Reiner Hoffmann and Nikolaus Simon) visited Ithaca, met with faculty and students, and worked with Lee Adler and Lowell Turner to set up the first meeting of the Transatlantic Dialogue in 2003. The Washington Office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung joined the project in the second year, as Dieter Dettke played an active role at both 2004 and 2005 meetings.

In pursuit of this exchange, our colleagues at ETUI and HBS were motivated not only by a desire for research and union collaboration but by broad geopolitical concerns. They worried that as European integration deepened, European trade unionists focused inward at the expense of relationships with unions in other countries, especially with their natural allies in the United States. Closely related to this concern, they viewed with alarm a spreading anti-American sentiment in Europe, in the context of an increasingly unilateral American foreign policy that included at that time momentum toward the invasion of Iraq. They worried that anti-Americanism would target not only the U.S. government but the American people, and that this sentiment would affect trade unionists as well as the broader population.

Sharing these concerns, we at the ILR School were also motivated by a desire to encourage international research and education as well as to facilitate the efforts of American unions to participate in transnational exchanges and campaigns with their counterparts in other countries. With both resident and extension divisions, with a track record of strong labor research and extensive labor movement contacts, ILR was uniquely positioned to share in the building of an ongoing forum for transatlantic exchange. 

The meetings and ongoing dialogue have benefited the sponsoring organizations and participating unions in a variety of ways. As a result, enthusiasm for the meetings has grown each year. Benefits include substantial contributions in research, education, outreach and public service, along with a corresponding elevation of the profile and reputation of the sponsoring organizations in labor-related academic and practitioner circles in Europe and the United States.

Outreach and public service
The TSD contribution in this area is most obvious. Outreach includes three aspects: research dissemination, facilitation of inter-union collaboration, and labor movement strategy development.

Each meeting has included several presentations based on original research. Topics include case studies and comparative analysis of urban labor revitalization, labor-inclusive coalition building, transnational union collaboration in maritime, food service, retail and other industries, capital asset strategies, international labor standards and global regulation, the AFL-CIO split and the development of the Change to Win Federation, and much more.

The meetings have also served to foster cross-national union collaboration. We have invited numerous union leaders and introduced them to their counterparts in other countries, and in so doing have facilitated contacts, communication and further exchanges. 

In some instances, sustained collaboration, including specific transnational campaigns based on innovative union strategies, have spilled over from relationships first established at our meetings. An event that illustrates such developments is the “Never Work Alone” conference that took place in Hamburg in March 2005 (summarized on the ILR International Programs web page in a story dated April 28, 2005). Organized by the Hamburg branch of ver.di (the large German service workers union) and co-sponsored by ILR and HBS, this week-long conference brought organizers from SEIU, UNITE HERE and IFPTE to Germany to share innovative campaigning techniques, quite new and in demand from their counterparts in ver.di. Lee Adler and Lowell Turner were invited to give keynote talks, along with Martin Behrens (ILR PhD 2001) on behalf of HBS. This first-of-a kind conference yielded three important developments: a deepening of relationships and exchange of ideas among German and American unions; a campaign to organize building security guards in Hamburg, a ver.di project to which two SEIU organizers were assigned as consultants for a period of one year; and a series of follow-up Never Work Alone conferences in various parts of Germany at which organizing and campaigning strategies were introduced to hundreds of union leaders and activists.

Each conference has included the participation of both junior scholars and advanced graduate students from Germany, Britain and the United States. Eight ILR graduate students, for example, have given presentations of substance. Preparation periods have extended over several months. In every case the learning experience has been significant, and in some cases the preparation and presentation has focused on dissertation research. 

At three of the conferences, undergraduate students have also attended. At the Brussels meeting, two undergraduates gave presentations of substance based on research they had conducted in preparation for the meeting. At the most recent meeting in Ithaca, four ILR undergraduate students gave brief summaries of the work they were doing in USAS (United Students Against Sweatshops) and COLA (Cornell Organization for Labor Action).

Contacts made at the TSD meetings have contributed to the development of several international labor internships, with promise for more. Each meeting has furthered useful contacts in this regard, in a process we expect will continue in the future.

Relationships developed at the meetings, both personal and institutional, have opened doors for research on a variety of issues in several countries. Research that includes in-depth interviews with practitioners typically depends on contacts established through personal and institutional relationships. TSD meetings have offered unusual access for such research for both faculty and graduate students. 

Presentations at the meetings by union leaders and academic researchers have offered a wealth of data and analysis to stimulate further research. One-on-one, small group and conference session discussions have also yielded rich information for use in research projects.
International profile and reputation of the sponsoring organizations
In this regard, the activities above speak for themselves. We believe the TSD meetings have raised the profile of all four sponsoring organizations in labor and academic circles on both sides of the Atlantic. For many union and academic participants from the U.S., the meetings have offered first exposure to HBS, ETUI and FES. Bruce Raynor (national president of UNITE HERE), for example, attended our Brussels meeting in 2004 (his very first trip to Europe). His union’s international director, Ginny Coughlin, has played an active role in the meetings, as has Bill Patterson, the leading capital assets expert for the AFL-CIO and now CTW. Additional speakers have come from the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, the Denver Area Labor Federation and SEIU.

Each organization knows best the specific ways in which reputations have been enhanced and work agendas furthered. For ILR, the meetings have enhanced our already strong reputation among European researchers interested in labor issues. In addition to sustained relationships with the sponsoring organizations, our participation has brought us into continuing relationships with leaders of the German Metalworkers Union and ver.di (each of which has about 2.5 million members and plays a prominent role in the broader European labor movement), works councils at DaimlerChrysler and G.M. Europe, the European Trade Union Confederation, the London Union Research Network, the British GMB and TGWU (two of the largest unions in the U.K.), and OrKa (Organisierung und Kampagnen), a German labor consulting firm.

TSD relationships have contributed importantly to numerous publications, including a forthcoming ILR Press book on Labor in the New Urban Battlegrounds: Local Solidarity in a Global Economy. The book has chapters by eight ILR faculty and graduate students, who in each case drew upon research or contacts developed in conjunction with TSD meetings, as well as three chapters by British and German academics who first developed relationships with other participating authors at our TSD meetings.