Professor International & Comparative Labor
I came to Cornell University in 1990, at a time when the ILR School had become increasingly aware of the importance of the global economy. I was hired to strengthen the School's capacities in international and comparative labor, with my own focus on Europe and the U.S. – along with Sarosh Kuruvilla and Maria Cook, specialists in Asia and Latin America respectively, who were hired around the same time. Since then, international teaching and research have expanded greatly at ILR, with strong support from the dean’s office and a growing interest among faculty and students in international issues.
My research interests center around comparative labor movements in Europe and the U.S. Some of my current work examines innovative strategies aimed at revitalizing labor movements in countries of the global North. In particular this work includes a focus on coalition building efforts that move unions beyond traditional interests at the workplace to a broader, society-based orientation.
As a political scientist, I look at labor issues in a broad framework of comparative political economy. A promising arena for current research is at the metropolitan or urban level, where some of the most innovative union strategies and in breakthrough successes have occurred. In 2007, a group of colleagues and I produced a book based on this research: Labor in the New Urban Battlegrounds: Local Solidarity in a Global Economy (Lowell Turner and Daniel Cornfields, eds., Cornell University Press/ILR Press). Ironically, local campaigns and politics have become increasingly salient as economic globalization proceeds, as conflicts and negotiations move both upward and downward from the national level. This is true to varying extents everywhere in the global North, making new kinds of comparative analysis both important and exciting.
Developing International Partnerships.
In a collaboration that includes both Resident and Extension sides of the School, Lee Adler and I have developed an ILR partnership with the European Trade Union Institute, Hans-Böckler-Stiftung and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, building a forum known as the Transatlantic Social Dialogue. The project has taken shape in a series of annual conferences that have rotated between Ithaca, Brussels and Berlin since the first meeting in Ithaca in 2003. The conferences include intensive debate and discussion between academic labor researchers and union officials and activists from both continents. In addition to facilitating unique research opportunities, this ongoing dialogue aims to bridge the gap between European and American trade unions, for purposes of mutual learning and solidarity.
One course I teach, at both undergraduate and graduate levels, is called "Politics of the Global North." The focus is twofold: contemporary global debates between advocates of a more market oriented globalization and their critics in both the global North and South who advocate a more democratic or social market globalization; and comparative capitalism, reflecting similar debates and contrasting balances between markets and democratic governance across the range of advanced industrial societies.
From 25 students in 1990 the class has grown to 150+ students, who often point to the emphasis on current events and contemporary world affairs as the main drawing card. Students these days have a much greater interest in international issues, an orientation that fits nicely with the ILR School’s expanded international programs. One reflection of the enthusiasm for a more global education is growing student interest in the international offerings developed by our ILR Credit Internship Program, with new opportunities for work and study abroad. I can’t overemphasize the importance for today’s students of an international experience, whether semester study abroad, internship, summer research or other possibilities.
My research addresses the growing interactions between labor and society, with a comparative perspective that includes the United States and the European Union. Particular areas of interest include politics, urban labor movements, coalition building, global warming, and the civic integration of immigrant workers.
- Lowell Turner