April 4, 2003

ILR Holds Union Days

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The School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) hosted the annual Union Days this week, aimed at exploring labor issues relevant to college students. The three-day event opened on Wednesday with a keynote address by Richard Trumka, the Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Organizers planned a series of panels, workshops and discussion groups structured around this year’s theme of “Social Justice and Campus Activism.” The event, which coincided with the National Student Labor Week of Action, focused on issues relating to campus labor movements and student involvement.

“Union Days began as an attempt to put a little bit more of labor and social justice back into the ILR school,” said organizer Prof. Jeff Cowie, collective bargaining, labor law and labor history. “I think it’s been very successful. It’s really an attempt to try and energize the mission of the ILR school.”

Speakers at yesterday’s panel included Ben McKean of United Students Against Sweatshops and Sonya Mehta of the Young Worker Project. The discussion was followed by small group workshops and two film screenings with Cornell Cinema. Union Days will conclude today with a social justice career fair and a reception for labor alumni.

“This is an important week for the labor movement,” Trumka said during his talk. “Not just at Cornell but on college and university campuses across the country. We’re celebrating a new rise in student activism.”

Trumka delivered his keynote address to a full auditorium in Ives Hall, recounting his early years as a coal miner, his fight against corruption in the United Mine Workers union and his experience as a strike leader across the country. Trumka called on students to continue a tradition of advocacy for workers’ rights.

“Our country is in a daze and the need for student activism … has never been greater,” he said. “The freedoms that we all cherish the most, the right to dissent, … to form and join unions, are being tarnished by the values we loathe the most: selfishness, callousness and unconcern.”

During the talk, organizers circulated a workers’ justice pledge which interested students signed to assert their dedication to the ideals of the labor movement in the future.

“It affirms your belief in basic human rights and workers’ rights and your commitment to helping and not adversely affecting [those rights] in your career,” said David Ratner ’04, president of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action (COLA).

“I think Union Days is a really excellent opportunity for people to understand the real-world implications of what we study in the labor school,” said Joan Moriarty grad, one of the lead organizers of the Cornell graduate student union effort. “I myself teach … to undergrads, and being able to have them see how unions really relate to the real world and the struggles that exist beyond Cornell is what Union Days … is about.”

Union Days was organized by a committee of ILR students and faculty chaired by Cowie. Cosponsors included Cornell Students Against Sweatshops, COLA, Cornell Cinema, the ILR Office of Career Services, Tompkins County Living Wage Coalition and the Minority ILR Student Organization. This was the sixth annual Union Days to be held at Cornell.

Archived article by Jeff Sickelco