Continuing the StruggleThe International Labor Organization (ILO) Centenary and the Future of Global Worker Rights

November 21-22, 2019
Washington, DC, United States

New Submission Deadline: February 1, 2019

This conference will mark the centenary of that watershed event.  It will be both retrospective and prospective.  It will look back to analyze and evaluate a century of efforts to advance workers’ rights around the globe.  It will look forward to ponder the ways in which global supply chains, financialization, and the growth of the “gig” economy and other forms of non-standard work challenge the ILO system and raise questions about the very definition of employers and employees and the basis of labor relations. As we look forward, we will also examine the conditions of the most vulnerable workers, including internal and external migrants, women, and youth who disproportionately make up the majority of domestic workers, care workers, and low-end manufacturing workers such as in the garment and electronic sectors. We will consider what approaches might be most effective in developing the cause of worker rights and empowerment in the century ahead.  To explore these questions, the conference will gather both academics and practitioners, including policymakers, union leaders, and leaders of worker rights organizations.

The conference invites participants who can contribute to the exploration of a range of themes related to the ILO’s work through scholarship or organizational work.  These themes include:

Global Workers, Global Supply Chains, Global Lives

What are the roots of the global supply chain process and how has this development driven economic change? What have been the mediating forces that shaped global supply chains? How are new forces like automation and digitization further shaping global supply chains? What has been the dynamic relationship between worker migration, citizenship, and labor rights? What are the legacies of empire, colonialism, and forced labor on today’s global economic infrastructure?  How does the ongoing crisis of forced labor and migration reflect on international efforts to address post-colonial structural legacies?

Gender, Sexuality and Labor Rights

Is there a global #MeToo movement and what does it mean for women working in today’s shifting economy? What is the prevalence of gender-based violence and harassment on the job? What is the potential for the proposed ILO Convention on gender-based violence at work? What can we learn by studying the past and present of care work as a transnational, feminized category of labor?  How has the work / family dilemma impacted working people, how has it looked different in the Global South and Global North, and how has this experience been mediated by both national government policy and global corporate policy? What is the connection between gender-based violence at work and precarious work? What is being done to win equal remuneration and combat discrimination based on perceived characteristics like gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, and race?

Building Workplace Power and Global Workers’ Rights

How have workers and their organizations used ILO conventions in workplace organizing at the local, national or global level?  Can ILO conventions be of particular use in transnational sectoral organizing? What is the future of worker organizing and working people’s freedom of association? What are the new or alternative forms of organizations that are emerging to strengthen workers’ voice and participation?   Do case studies of key sectors offer particular insights, such as in home work, domestic, maritime or migrant labor?

On Shifting Ground: Labor Standards, Policy and the Future of Work

What can we learn about workers’ present crisis by studying the past and future of tripartite structures like the ILO for governing workers’ rights?  How and why are national and global labor standards shifting today and what does that mean for workers and their organizations? What is the role and impact of new Standard Development Organizations (SDOs)?  What kind of global governance, regulations and labor policy could best support working people in today’s gig economy, including “creative labor”? How should we understand the shifting boundaries of formal / informal work and / or free/ unfree labor?   How can the ILO address the increase of precarious employment, including depressed wages and benefits and declining worker voice?

Please send paper, presentation, or panel proposals to [email protected].  Deadline for submissions is February 1, 2019.

We hope to disseminate papers and presentations as appropriate, including a special section or issue of a journal, edited collection, online proceedings, activist blogs and other digital media, and other formats.

Planning Committee (in formation):

  • Mark Anner, Pennsylvania State University
  • Eileen Boris, University of California at Santa Barbara
  • Tula Connell, Solidarity Center
  • Leon Fink, editor, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History
  • Julie Greene, University of Maryland
  • Jill Jensen, University of Redlands
  • Joseph A. McCartin, Georgetown University
  • Guilherme Machado Dray, University of Lisbon
  • Jennifer Mansey, ILO-USA
  • Nancy Raquel Mirabal, University of Maryland
  • Uma Rani, ILO, Geneva
  • Jeff Wheeler, AFGE and Georgetown University
  • Lane Windham, Georgetown University