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Call for papers

This Call for papers invites original academic and actor contributions on one or more of the following five core themes. All are focused on assessing innovations, transformations and strategies and drawing lessons from them. All proposals (submission procedures below) should be sent to Nicolas Roby, CRIMT Scientific Coordinator at The call is now closed.

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Socio-economic, cultural, technological, labour market, financial and political changes are all impacting the role and influence of unions in society. Trade unions in different national contexts have been seeking to come to terms with the multiple implications of this new context. Rooted in older organizational forms and ways of framing and aggregating worker interests and identities, the challenges for union representation remain daunting.

The effects of new technologies and changes in work organization, the proliferation of new forms of employment, the internationalization of production and services, the pursuit of labour flexibility through competition between work sites are all changing the organizational topography for union action and strategy and shifting the balance, costs of, and confidence in, collective action. Union actors are addressing such change through new forms of coalition-building, new organizing and framing strategies to enhance their political and bargaining power.

Long-term movements in the types of jobs people do and the industries in which they do them, as well as the socio-demographic characteristics of these workers and the values they bring to work, challenge unions' ability to reflect the diversity of people and situations at work. The capacity to connect with current and potential members has significant implications for success in promoting the priorities of the workers they represent.

Unions are thus confronted with significant changes that appear to require innovation and even transformation. As union actors rethink and experiment their agenda, their organizational structures and their modes of action, what are the innovations taking place and what is the relative success of these innovations?


1. What do Unions Stand For?

Has union purpose changed? Are there problems with the framing of union objectives and their connection with both members and society? Has there been a shift in the balance and costs of collective action? What kinds of innovations and self-assessments are taking place with regard to union purpose, the framing of union messages and image, and what is the relative success of these initiatives?

What are the possibilities and prospects for new departures and alternative visions around reframed agenda (for example, in terms of social justice; the green economy and environmental sustainability; decent, healthy, stimulating, productive, and socially useful work; workplace voice and good governance; economic security; the role of the public services; the balance between work, family and community; the distribution of social and economic opportunities between developed and emerging economies)? How do they connect with traditional union projects?

Where do new ideas and visions come from? What might be the role of different types of actors and organizations in generating renewed union projects? What are the conditions in which to engage members in debates about union principles and purpose?

2. Who do Unions Represent?

Why do people join, leave or not join unions? Have value sets changed? How do unions contend with individualism? Can collectivism, old or new, be reconstructed?

What are the legal and institutional barriers to collective representation? What kind of reforms would promote freedom of association? What is the impact of different types of legal and institutional change on the possibility of organizing and what are the organizational strategies to deal with these legal and organizational barriers?

How do unions reflect the diversity of people at work and their own membership? What are the innovations in terms of integrating women and men, immigrants and racialized jobs, native peoples, younger workers, precarious workers, migrant workers, knowledge and new economy workers, the self-employed…? What is the impact of new state mechanisms such as Charter rights, duty of fair representation, right-to-work, determinations of union representativeness….?

What are the organizational innovations in integrating new identities and diversity and in recruitment strategies? What are the new organizational forms for collective representation? What are the alternatives for organizing in private services? What does going beyond the wage relationship as an organizing principle entail?

3. What are the Dynamics of Union Activism?

What are the challenges of member participation and mobilization in the light of social transformations (social values and generational change), economic transformations (globalization, economic insecurity), and technological transformations (ex. the interactive social media of Web 2.0)? What is their impact on union activism and democracy?

What are the sources of union activism? How and why do members become engaged in the life of their union? How and when do members mobilize collectively? What are the innovations that bring new groups into union activism and leadership, that engage members in campaigns, that bring members into the life of their union?

What are the organizational structures and practices that enhance member voice and deliberative vitality? What is the impact of local structures, new models of leadership, the integration of new interests and identities into union leadership, educational initiatives, cross-constituency organizing? Are there trade-offs between Charter rights and majority rule?

Is democracy an enabler or an impediment to organizational change? What are the trade-offs, if any, between bottom-up and top-down initiatives?

4. What are the Strategies for Union Power?

What are the tools and strategies, old and new, to build bargaining power and how are they activated? How does the changed financial, economic, social and political context influence bargaining power? Does the efficacy of tools and strategies vary by context (local, national, international), the nature of the employer (multinational companies and their suppliers, public service employees, private services) and/or the type of issue (restructuring, pensions, working time)? Is there a trade-off between mobilization and social partnership and what are the consequences of each for union strategies and servicing? What are the assessments of transnational campaigns and community alliances and networks to build bargaining power?

Do trade unionists need to rethink the union political role? Is there a weakening of links with political parties? How do unions bridge political party and civil society alliances and initiatives? What are the new organizational forms and types of political initiative? How does the union agenda find voice in the political arena? What is the assessment of such initiatives? What are the most strategic political avenues for the defence and improvement of working conditions and quality of life?

What are the new areas of strategic contention? What are the most effective platforms and mechanisms for the social regulation of firms (ex. corporate social responsibility, environmental sustainability, international framework agreements) and what are their implications for union organizations and activism? How do union strategies integrate or build on new issues such as: environmental sustainability; life-long learning; economic security in old age; decent, healthy, stimulating, productive, and socially useful work; workplace voice and good governance; the role of the public services; work-family balance?

What is the interface between bargaining, political and other areas of strategic contention? How do unions articulate between different levels of action and sites of contention? Are unions leaders or laggards in community coalitions and how do they engage the community in their campaigns? What is the assessment of community campaigns, initiatives and organizational forms? What kind of models of unionism are at play and what is their relative degree of success or failure?

What are the implications of changing repertories and networks for the division of labour and the role of different levels and types of union structure (international federations, national central labour federations, national union structures, regional councils, union locals and workplace representative structures)?

5. How do Unions Innovate?

How do unions innovate? What are the enablers and impediments to union innovation? What are the organizational mechanisms and practices to transfer and diffuse innovations? What innovations are most likely to build capacity?

How do unions integrate learning into their organizational policies and practices? How is learning promoted between different parts of the same union, between different unions, between generations, across borders, between developed and emerging economies, from other social movements? Are there organizational policies, forms, types of leadership that better promote learning within unions?

Are there skills and capabilities that are more likely to foster organizational innovation, learning and capacity-building? Are there types of innovation that are more likely to develop these skills and capabilities? What is the role of education in union innovation and learning? What are the skills and capabilities that union activists and officers need to develop?

What have we learned from the research on union revitalization and renewal? What are the priorities for a research agenda? What are the methodologies most likely to inform our understanding of the transformations of unions and other types of collective representation?

Submitting Proposals

Scholars, labour movement actors and other interested persons are invited to submit original paper and workshop proposals in English or French on one or more of these themes. We are especially interested in featuring comparative evaluations and detailed empirical studies of new practices, innovations and experimentation undertaken by trade unions and their implementation. Papers can be theoretical, analytical, empirical or policy-oriented and address one or more of the themes identified above or the relationships between them. We also strongly encourage proposals for workshops of linked papers (four papers or three papers and a discussant) and workshops assessing challenges and innovations that involve both union actors and academic researchers (four or five participants).

All proposals will be subject to a competitive review by the Coordinating Committee. We will do our utmost to provide a timely response to your proposals after their submission in order that you can secure financing to attend the conference. All participants must cover their registration fees (300 Canadian dollars), travel and other expenses.

The deadline for submission of proposals is extended to May 16th, 2012.

Individual paper proposals should be a maximum of 2 pages, identify the authors and their institutional affiliation, and outline the nature of the study, the methodological approach, and the main lines of analysis to be developed. Workshop proposals should be 3-5 pages in length, identify the participants and their institutional affiliation, and include details on the contribution as a whole and on each contribution (2-3 paragraphs for each).

All proposals should be sent to Nicolas Roby, CRIMT Scientific Coordinator at

In the case of papers submitted to the conference, the authors should submit a first draft of the full version of their paper by October 1st 2012. This will be made available at the time of the conference on a special conference Website for participants. Some papers will be selected for submission to leading refereed journals for inclusion in special issues.

The workshops involving both labour movement actors and researchers should entail a focus on assessing challenges and innovations and will require significant scope for interaction and participant discussion.