Katy Habr '18ILR Experience: Intern, Research and Strategic Initiative Dept, American Federation of Teachers
I was always interested in history and social sciences, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I went to college. I got the brochure from ILR saying “Are you interested in social justice? Are you interested in history? Are you interested in economics?” I kept thinking, yes, I’m interested in all those things, so ILR seemed like a good way for me to find my path. When I started at a Cornell, I didn’t really have any in-depth understanding of power. I mainly looked at things from a volunteer or human rights perspective. Then I came here and learned about the ways people come together collectively to have power and change unjust systems. Taking classes on labor history, the global economy, history, philosophy and government all helped shape my passion for labor and the labor movement.
One of my internships was with the Solidarity Center, the international arm of the AFL-CIO, which works with unions and workers around the world to help them organize and build power. I’ve also conducted research on job shifts, outsourcing, and the gains of union contracts for women of color. Another internship I had with the American Federation of Teacher taught me a lot about public sector unions and the need for educators to have collective power. I think my point of view has changed a lot since I came to ILR, as it shifted from the idea of doing good through charity and volunteer work to a more militant idea of building power and addressing the sources of unjust systems.
COLA (Cornell Organization for Labor Action)
During my time with COLA, we’ve worked on a lot of different campaigns, both around the world and in Ithaca. We’re currently running a “Fight for 15” living wage campaign in coordination with the Tompkins County Workers’ Center to get a living wage for workers throughout Tompkins County.
One of my favorite ILR classes was Professor Applegate’s class on community development. The class looked at the ways that organizations can work together to transform and take charge of development so their communities are safe and protected from economic devastation. We talked about the importance of coalition building and grassroots organizing, and the power of working-class people to change the way society is structured.
I think it’s also important to take classes outside of ILR. I took a great art history course on impressionism, which included a lot about labor struggles and working-class movements. It was an interesting addition to my ILR education because it provided a different historical and theoretical view of some of the issues we study in the School.
My thesis is on university anti-sweatshop movements and the ways in which they build solidarity internationally. I’m looking at the limitations of those connections, the ways in which there could be more focus on local work, and how those power dynamics play out. I’ll also be looking at the goals of the movement and how those goals relate to the idea of solidarity, which people define in different ways. I decided to write it to challenge myself and to further engage with and better understand my own politic views. I wanted to write about something that was relevant to my Cornell experience and that would have wider implications for activism and student organizing.