A Deeper Understanding

Labor issues will be discussed at Transatlantic Social Dialogue
Monday, May 4, 2009

Although unions in Germany, Britain, France and the United States are structured differently, they have common issues, many of which will be discussed this week at the Transatlantic Social Dialogue in the ILR Conference Center.

When European and American academics, researchers and union leaders gather Thursday through Saturday, their agenda will include:

  • economic crisis, recovery and the labor movement
  • green jobs, economic and labor market restructuring
  • crisis in the auto and steel industries
  • financial meltdown and capital market strategies
  • Obama administration and labor: policy battles and possible outcomes
  • immigrant workers, union strategies, and the economic crisis.

Since 2003, the event has rotated every year among Ithaca, Berlin and Brussels.

"We get a much deeper understanding of the labor market forces and social policies that helps us mutually understand the significance of unions in our respective countries," said Lee Adler. He leads ILR's participation in the Transatlantic Social Dialogue with Professor Lowell Turner.

This year, Turner said, the Transatlantic Social Dialogue is particularly important.

"The logic of market fundamentalism has brought deep crisis to the global economy. As so often in the past, it will be up to government, unions and other social actors to reregulate markets and save capitalism from itself," he said.

"The cross-national discussions at this meeting aim to develop and spread the ideas that can contribute to a sustainable revival of the global economy," Turner said.

Adler said discussions tackle thorny issues and policy questions including the minimum wage -- controversial in Germany, immigrant and migrant workers, and the chronic need to organize.

Some German and British unions, Adler said, have adopted the organizing strategies and campaigning approaches of American trade unions. "Our meetings played some role in that development," he said, referring to the Transatlantic Social Dialogue.

The meetings have also promoted better understanding of partners' current research projects and needs, and have resulted in important research partnerships among participants and others, Adler said.

Adler, a senior extension associate at ILR, and Turner are researching how unions in Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the United States assist in integrating migrant workers into unions and society. Their work is funded by the Hans Böckler Stiftung, the Carnegie Corporation and the Public Welfare Foundation.

About 35 people from four countries and 10 universities are expected to attend the conference. Speakers are from organizations including Germany's Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, ILR and its Global Labor Institute, London Metropolitan University and the Otto Brenner Foundation, as well as from trade unions in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.

The conference is sponsored by ILR, the Hans Böckler Stiftung, a research and publications institute whose research undertakings support German trade unions, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a German foundation which funds critical workplace, educational, and health and safety initiatives worldwide, and the European Trade Union Institute, the intellectual think tank of the European Union's trade union movement.