KI Marks ILO Centenary with Major Convening Featuring Speakers from Six Continents

Room full of people with raised fists at an event.

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The KI convened a major international labor conference to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Washington, D.C. on November 21 and 22.  

More than 175 people from six continents – – including academics, practitioners, policymakers, union leaders and leaders of worker rights organizations – – attended the “Continuing the Struggle: The International Labor Organization (ILO) Centenary and the Future of Global Worker Rights” conference. 

Featured conference speakers included: Myrtle Witbooi, President of the International Domestic Workers’ Federation (IDWF) from South Africa; Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA); Cathy Feingold, International Trade Union Confederation Deputy President and director AFL-CIO International Department; Karen Kent, President of UNITE HERE Local 1 in Chicago; Joseph McCartin, Executive Director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, Eileen Boris, University of California Santa Barbara; David Weil, Brandeis University; Saket Soni, Resilience Force; Isabelle Lespinet-Moret, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne; Sandrine Kott, University of Geneva; Lance Compa, Cornell University, and more.   

“This historic conference convened an unparalleled group of activists and academics from all corners of the world to highlight a hundred years of global efforts to defend and strengthen workers’ rights,” said Dr. Joseph McCartin, director of the KI, “We facilitated a cutting-edge conversation about building the contemporary global workers’ movement.”  

The conference featured speakers from six continents, and included presenters from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia and other nations.  

Guests attended a special evening discussion and reception on November 21 at the Organization of American States (OAS) headquarters, which is housed in the Pan American Union building, the site of the first International Labor Conference in 1919.  Cathy Feingold, director of the AFL-CIO International Department, chaired a conversation among three authors with recent books on the ILO: Eileen Boris, Adelle Blackett and Daniel Maul.  

The panel at OAS addressed the role of the ILO, governments and organizing in a changing economy of work. In speaking of women organizing in a changing economy, Blackett said, “We have a deeply segmented care economy, and there’s an issue of invisibility. We see care workers when we need them and don’t see them when we do not.” Maul, speaking on the current power of the ILO shared, “The ILO has the capacity to address this vast transformation in our economy, but it also requires the will of governments and the power of unions to mobilize.” 

“All across the globe, women workers are the most likely to do precarious work for the least pay; this conference highlighted women’s pressing issues in the global economy,” said Lane Windham, associate director of the KI and co-director of WILL Empower.  “We also spotlighted a new generation of women’s labor leadership around the world.”  

In the “Rethinking the Bargain” plenary, AFA President Sara Nelson asserted that the way forward for the workers’ movement includes “pushing back against the idea that some work is worth less than other work, and that immigrant work is not worth as much as work by those who are citizens. There is no border for workers.”  

Themes covered during the conference plenaries and panels included: Global Workers, Global Supply Chains, Global Lives; Gender, Sexuality and Labor Rights; Building Workplace Power and Global Workers’ Rights; and On Shifting Ground: Labor Standards, Policy and the Future of Work. 

More information on the conference can be found at  

Conference sponsors included: Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor; the International Labor Organization (ILO); Center for Global Workers’ Rights at Pennsylvania State University; the Hull Chair in Feminist Studies at UC Santa Barbara; the Hall Network for Innovation in Public Policy, the University of Redlands; Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung; the Solidarity Center.

Planning Committee 
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