Lance Compa

Lance Compa teaches labor law at Cornell University’s School of Industrial & Labor Relations. Previously, he worked many years as a union organizer and negotiator for the United Electrical Workers (UE) and the Newspaper Guild.

Recent Articles

Labor at a Crossroads: How Unions Can Thrive in the 21st Century

First, stop the self-flagellation: The labor movement lives, and is getting stronger.

(AP Photo/Long Beach Press-Telegram, Stephen Carr)
This article was commissioned as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our "Labor at a Crossroads" series here . Labor advocates and scholars often feel like we won’t be taken seriously unless we say how awful things are. The more dire our analysis, the more listeners will nod and say it must be right, with labor insiders so self-critical. But our critical thinking shouldn’t devolve into despair. Workers won’t join a movement that constantly proclaims it is going down the tubes and is going to disappear in ten years. Legislators won’t pass pro-labor laws because they feel sorry for unions. Workers want to see power, and legislators need to feel power. Unions won’t regain it by complaining. We can’t deny or minimize problems and...

Slumming in America

Human-rights arguments are effective tools for shaming European companies into good labor practices in the U.S.

Get back to work, or we'll hire permanent replacements to take your jobs! That's what management at Robert Bosch, a German multinational firm with 270,000 employees worldwide, told union members who exercised their right to strike in December 2005. Bosch's message might come as a surprise to anyone who reads the company's website, which promises "respect and support" for international labor standards, especially International Labor Organization (ILO) norms on workers' freedom of association. Bosch's threat directly contravened an ILO standard that says threatening or using permanent replacements to break a strike violates workers' freedom of association. Bosch's threat also ran counter to labor practices at home in Germany and throughout Europe, where permanent replacements are prohibited or, in the case of Germany, simply unheard of. No employer -- including Robert Bosch -- has ever tried using them there. The 2005 strike wasn't taking place in Europe, however, but at Bosch's...

Wary Allies

Corporate codes of conduct offer a "third way" to promote labor rights in the global economy--a civil-society alternative to first-way government regulation or second-way trade-union organizing and collective bargaining. Supporters argue that such codes can harness the market power of informed consumers to halt abuses against workers in developing countries, given that national laws vary and governments cannot possibly inspect every workplace and prevent every abuse. Like cereal boxes in a supermarket aisle, a daunting variety of codes have entered the public-policy marketplace in recent years. These are sponsored by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the Fair Labor Association, the Worker Rights Consortium, the Ethical Trading Initiative, the Clean Clothes Campaign, the Rugmark Foundation, the Foulball Campaign, and Social Accountability 8000 (SA8000), a takeoff on the ISO 9000 manufacturing-quality standards. Members of these consortia include company officials, trade unionists...

A Fast Track for Labor

Saying no to trade agreements won't stop trade. Labor's advocates need to support realistic proposals for modifying NAFTA and other pacts.

At the latest Geneva meetings of the World Trade Organization and the International Labor Organization, the Clinton administration and the U.S. labor movement championed greater international scrutiny of forced labor, child labor, and other violations of fundamental workers' rights. This is only the beginning of real linkage between reciprocal open trade and the most minimal of social standards, but it is a start. Can the labor movement and the administration build on it and move toward a general trade policy that truly advances workers' rights in global trade? Labor activists are divided on how to proceed. They were cheered by the defeat of "fast track" negotiating authority in Congress last November, which would have given the President license to negotiate a hemispheric free trade area and other such deals, subject only to an up or down congressional vote. But fast track will be back after the November elections. At a governmental summit meeting in Santiago, Chile, last April, the...