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New Worker Institute Emphasizes Strategic Innovation

New Worker Institute Emphasizes Strategic Innovation

September 25, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter

The ILR School at Cornell University has been providing high quality research for labor unions and other organizations and training of union leaders since 1945. After nearly 70 years of teaching and immersing students in labor economics and dispute resolution, the resident and extension faculty of the ILR School will now be sharing their expertise with a new crop of students at Cornell’s recently launched The Worker Institute.

Lowell Turner, the institute’s Academic Director, noted that a couple of years ago he and his colleagues presented a proposal to the ILR’s dean that would bring together the strengths of the ILR’s resident and extension faculty and inject the institute’s labor research and work more widely into the public discourse.

At the ILR School’s Ithaca campus there are different departments in labor economics, human resource management and labor and employment law. There are also extension programs where instructors teach union leaders the necessary leadership skills and qualities. In fact, in July about 60 members and leaders from traditional and non-traditional unions, such as Domestic Workers United, attended a one-week session at the campus.

According to Turner, the role of the new worker institute will be on innovation.

“We can’t keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them. The labor movement has undergone 30 years of decline. We have to turn things around by focusing on new and innovative ways to rebuild the labor movement.”

Turner noted that unions should be aggressively pursuing and coordinating coalitions with a multitude of organizations such as immigrant rights groups, community groups and environmental groups.

“We’re training labor leaders to be labor movement leaders and we’re training labor movement leaders to be social movement leaders,” said Turner.

The institute hopes to impress upon its new enrollees the importance of strategic planning. Turner mentioned that unions will often go into battle, a strike, without a really viable plan on how to win the strike.

“We’re focusing on long-term strategic planning. ‘Let’s not get into campaigns—legislative or organizing—or job actions without a well thought-out, clearly focused strategic plan on how to win,’” said Turner.

Turner added that community support will be essential.

“We need to recognize that the labor movement needs to be part of something much larger if it’s going to turn around its decline.”

Although Turner did not specify a particular campaign where the school’s new strategic innovation pedagogy could be put to the test, he noted, in response to how the institute can provide instruction, for example, on challenging labor law that currently constrains labor,

“We have to involve the key players and work out very deliberately a winning strategy, which will require allies to win public and legislative support.”

September 25, 2012

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