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Call for Proposals

Confronting Global Capital: Strengthening Labour Internationalism and Transnationalism in Canada Today

McMaster University

Hamilton, Ontario – October 12-14, 2017

The impact of neoliberal globalization on workers and on their communities has become wellknown. From the off-shoring of manufacturing jobs in the Global North, to degraded working conditions in the Global South, the restructuring of global value chains has led to a race to the bottom harmful to all workers. The crisis of 2007-2009 has shown the extent of the damage financialized capitalism can do to the economy and to the working class. However, efforts to “regulate capitalism” remain rhetorical at best and no real progress has been made to challenge capital globally. This has also led to increased competition between workers for fewer jobs as these processes of dispossession continue to intensify and where workers now compete across a landscape where the disparity of wages between the Global North and South are estimated at 70:1 (Bellamy Foster, McChesney and Jonna 2011, 16).

In this context of heightened global competition between workers, the need for labour internationalism is stronger than ever. However, many challenges exist. These include business unionism and the predominately local or national orientation of many trade unions, both of which lend themselves to competition among different groups of workers, racism and sexism which divide workers, and also the legacies of labour imperialism that mark the histories of some national labour federations in the North as well as that of the major international institutions of trade unions.

Despite these challenges, many initiatives of international labour solidarity exist, both inside and outside formally organized labour. Canada has a rich history of labour internationalism. The distinct identity of Québec trade unions as well as the ideological diversity within Canadian labour has created a broad array of configurations of international solidarity, both in terms of goals and framing, and in terms of practices. This conference, organized by a committee of trade union activists and academics, aims to take stock of the state of labour internationalism in Canada today by bringing together rank and file activists in unions, union staff and leadership, as well as other activists and academics involved in workers’ justice more generally.

Our goal is to critically analyze and assess practices of labour internationalism in an effort to think about what international workers’ solidarity means in Canada today. We aim to identify the challenges and obstacles to building stronger international ties and transnational coordinated action and to come up with ideas and proposals as to how to move forward.

Given the restructuring of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in 2013, which was a long-time source of funding for so many labour international solidarity projects supported by Canadian unions, we need to think about what Canadian labour internationalism means and can look like in the 21st century. And so, our goal is not simply to deepen our understandings but to change our practices and offer some concrete proposals for how we move forward in the post-aid context.

Possible topics of discussion include:

  • Mobilizing against and bargaining with Multinational Corporations
  • Funding international labour solidarity after CIDA
  • Assessing models of solidarity practice: tensions between grassroots labour internationalism and institutionalized solidarity
  • Solidarity and imperialism: building egalitarian North-South relations
  • Labour facing a new generation of trade agreements
  • Migrant workers and international solidarity
  • Interconnecting struggles: internationalism, anti-racism, and feminism
  • Climate change, environmentalism and labour internationalism
  • Canadian participation in International Labour Movement Organisations

This 2-and-a-half-day conference will gather participants from the labour movement, workers’ organisations and academia. We particularly welcome the participation of rank and file and unorganized worker-activists. We will seek, as much as possible, to have panels include speakers from different backgrounds. Proposals co-authored by academics and non-academic authors will be especially welcome. Panel proposals can also be submitted, as long as they include both academic and non-academic panellists.

Proposals can be based on individual or collective experience and/or research. They can take the form of case studies, comparisons, historical assessments, or reflections on the matters covered by the conference. If you are not sure how to make a proposal, please write us a note describing your interests and the organizing committee will assist you. If you would like to be part of a round-table or be on a panel as a commentator on other papers rather than making your own presentation, please let us know your areas of interest and background.

Proposals by activists can be brief – even less than 100 words. All proposals are limited to a maximum of 250 words and should also include a short biographical note (a couple of sentences). It should include the name, position and affiliation of all the authors. Please also indicate whether you have access to financial support for your participation in the conference or whether you would like to be considered for support.

Please email your proposal to the conference committee at [email protected] by Friday, November 18th, 2016.

For more information, please contact Thomas Collombat ([email protected]) or Katherine Nastovski ([email protected])

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