Bringing Together Scholars and Labor Leaders on Both Sides of the Atlantic

30 academics from the United States and Europe met in Brussels, Belgium, for the 13th annual Transatlantic Social Dialogue
Friday, August 14, 2015

Co-sponsored by The Worker Institute at Cornell, the Hans Böckler Stiftung (HBS), and the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), the TSD facilitates cross-national learning, enhances collaboration between trade unionists and academics, and charts a vision based on workplace democracy, a stronger international labor movement and a more equitable, sustainable society.

“The TSD provides a unique space for labor activists, trade union leaders, and labor scholars to come together to strategize about how to deal with the main challenges and opportunities facing the international labor movement today,” said Worker Institute Co-Director Lara Skinner. As a leading expert on Labor, Environment and Sustainable Development, Skinner represented The Worker Institute at the TSD, along with colleagues KC Wagner, Chair of the Equity at Work Initiative, and Academic Director Lowell Turner.

Among the topics of discussion this year were: union strategies for combatting low wage work; highlights from campaigns and initiatives to grow worker voices and power; union engagement to confront the climate crisis; new perspectives on how to address growing inequality; and discussions on the broader political and policy trends that are shaping trade union struggles on both sides of the Atlantic.

The conference opened Friday June 5th at the IG Metall District of Northrhine Westfalia Headquarters, with a discussion on the main challenges and strategic opportunities to growing worker and union power, featuring speakers from The Worker Institute, the European Trade Union Institute, the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB), and University College Dublin.

Panels continued on Friday, addressing: growing inequality and the role of deregulation and financialization, labor movement responses to intensifying attacks on collective bargaining and worker rights, and taking an offensive approach for codetermination and workplace representation. The TSD concluded Saturday, June 6th, with panels on innovative organizing strategies for precarious and immigrant workers, and a discussion on labor’s role in the 2015 United Nations’ climate negotiations in Paris. 

Reflecting on the goals and achievements of this year’s conference, Lara Skinner said, “the TSD provides a unique space for labor activists, trade union leaders, and labor scholars to come together to strategize about how to deal with the main challenges and opportunities facing the international labor movement today. This year we began by discussing the European labor movement’s response to the Greek crisis and the rise of the Syriza party, and finished by hearing about innovative organizing strategies related to young workers, immigrant workers and growing numbers of precarious workers.” 

The Transatlantic Social Dialogue (TSD) started 13 years ago, developed with leadership from Worker Institute Director Lowell Turner and Lee Adler of the ILR School faculty; Maria Jepsen of the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI); Nikolaus Simon, Hans Böckler Stiftung (HBS); Wolf Jürgen Rönder of IG Metall and the Otto Brenner Foundation, and Reiner Hoffman of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB). The TSD is now coordinated by Lara Skinner, The Worker Institute at Cornell, Maite Tapia, Worker Institute Fellow and Michigan State University, Martin Behrens, HBS, and Kurt Vandaele, ETUI. The group’s next meeting will be hosted by the ETUI in Brussels, Belgium. 

In 2012, The Worker Institute hosted the 12th annual TSD in New York City for the first time.