One year ago, in December, 2018, a global network of union and worker rights lawyers and advocates was launched — the International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW) Network. With workers more and more confronting common legal issues worldwide, often involving multiple jurisdictions, it is increasingly critical to the effective representation of workers and unions to unite legal practitioners and scholars to exchange information and ideas from around the world. ILAW was established for this purpose. Its core mission is to facilitate collaboration among its members to develop creative solutions to promote workers’ rights through campaigns, policy analysis, litigation, and legislation. Over time, one can imagine that the ILAW Network will become the preeminent legal association for workers.
The ILAW Network also takes positions and actions in support of member lawyers and the unions and workers they represent — such as a global statement of support on behalf of South Korean labor lawyers who were hunger striking in protest of government attempts to roll back legislated labor standards; assistance to an international delegation of lawyers holding hearings in Brazil in support of victims of the Brumadinho Dam disaster last winter; and coordination of an amicus brief to protect recent constitutional reforms in Mexico from attack by employers and employer-dominated unions.
With input from members, ILAW has thus far been focusing on a number of important subject-matter areas that bear an obvious international and/or comparative character, such as global supply chain accountability; the fissured employment relationship; migrant worker rights; the informal economy; gender based violence and discrimination in all its forms; occupational safety and health; public sector labor and employment; trade union rights; organizing and bargaining with multinational enterprises; and the International Labor Organization (ILO).
The ILAW Network’s website is currently offered in English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Arabic, and Russian. It provides daily news on legal developments corresponding to the focus areas; an online library containing legal materials (case law, legislation, articles, reports, etc.) accessible by subject matter and geography; a global directory of members, with contact information and areas of expertise; listservs to facilitate discussion among members with similar interests or concerns; a forum for webinars and other educational opportunities; a calendar to announce upcoming events of potential interest; and a campaign feature allowing members to initiate urgent action appeals.
All lawyers and advocates who represent or support workers in their practices are eligible to join ILAW. Dues levels are modest and tied to ability to pay, and waivers for payment are granted upon request.
Important to the evolution of ILAW, I met with and received ongoing input from numerous members of the UC Berkeley Labor Center staff. ILAW is housed at the Solidarity Center, a non-profit, non-governmental organization allied with the U.S. labor movement and dedicated to the promotion of workers’ rights worldwide. As former AFL-CIO General Counsel (and a Labor Center visiting scholar), I co-created ILAW with Solidarity Center’s Chief Counsel Jeff Vogt. It has an independent advisory board of 20 union and worker rights lawyers from 20 different countries, and is chaired by Jeff Vogt. The network now claims approximately 400 members from some 55 countries, and is growing.
Given geographic realities, the organization relies heavily on its online platform. Nonetheless, last November in Mexico City, ILAW was able to convene an in-person conference, which brought together over 120 labor and human rights lawyers and academics from over 30 countries from every region of the world. The conference was made possible with generous support from the Open Society Foundations, whose Human Rights Justice Initiative has been interested in exploring potential synergies between the human rights and worker rights legal communities. For many ILAW members, it was their first opportunity to meet other members in person and exchange ideas for the more effective representation of workers’ rights and interests at the national, regional and international levels. Over two days, members participated in thematic and regional round table discussions and plenaries on a range of important issues (see Conference Report), and engaged in an agenda-setting process for ILAW, as it moves forward.
Jon Hiatt is a union lawyer, who currently serves as Of Counsel to Solidarity Center, based in Washington D.C., while also a Visiting Scholar at Berkeley Labor Center. Previously, Hiatt was General Counsel of the Service Employees International Union from 1987-1996, General Counsel of the AFL-CIO from 1996-2009, and then Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka from 2009-2017.