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First-of-its kind New York City conference to look at labor's responses to globalization

NEW YORK -- At an unusual international labor conference in New York City, Feb. 9-11, trade unionists and scholars will strategize about the role of the labor movement in a globalized world.

"Global Companies-Global Unions-Global Research-Global Campaigns," which takes place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at Times Square, is being co-sponsored by Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR).

"This is a big event -- the first of its kind, with 500 academics and labor leaders from all over the world," said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of the Labor Education Research program at the ILR School and a chief organizer of the conference, which has attracted so much attention it is already oversubscribed.

"Given the globalization of companies, finance and labor markets, the labor movement recognizes that union organizing and bargaining campaigns and strategic research must become global as well," said Bronfenbrenner, stressing that the plenary speakers are prominent labor leaders.

Among the labor movement's heavy hitters at the opening plenary session on Feb. 9 are Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer, AFL-CIO; Harris Raynor, international vice president, UNITE HERE; Berta Luján, Mexico City comptroller with the Partido de la Revolución Democrática and former national coordinator of Authentic Labor Front, Mexico; Cedric Gina, second vice president of National Union of Metal Workers, South Africa; and Guy Ryder, secretary, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Harry Katz, dean of the ILR School, is also a panelist, and Bronfenbrenner is chairing the discussion.

The Feb. 11 closing plenary session features Ron Oswald, general secretary, International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations; Neide Fonseca, president, Inter-American Trade Union Institute to Promote Racial Equality and the secretary of social policy for the National Confederation of Bank Workers, Brazil; Chang Hsu-Chung, president of the Chunghwa Telecom Workers Union, Taiwan; and Hassan Yussuff secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress. The session will be chaired by Kenneth Zinn, director of the AFL-CIO Center for Strategic Research.

The conference also includes more than 200 workshops on such topics as "Transnational Union Strategy, Environmental Movements and Corporate Responsibility" and "Working Off the Clock: Testimony From Former Wal-Mart Employees in the U.S." One workshop participant is José Bové, who opposes the industrialization of food production and its impact on small farmers. Bové was jailed for dismantling a McDonald's restaurant in France several years ago and faces another prison term for destroying genetically modified corn in Brazil. He and others also are taking part in a pre-conference conversation Feb. 9 starting at 9:30 a.m. that is free and open to the public (the conference is not). Plenary sessions are open to the media).

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Blaine Friedlander