E. Ian Robinson
I received my B.A. Hons. in Political Studies from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario; my M.Phil. in Politics from Oxford University; and my Ph.D. in Political Science from Yale University. Before coming to the University of Michigan in 1998, I was an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Reed College (Portland, OR), a Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL), an advisor on constitutional and trade policy to the Ontario government, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard's Center for European Studies, and Assistant to the Director of Research on Federalism and Constitutional Reform for the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada.

At the University of Michigan, I am a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology and in the Residential College's interdisciplinary Social Theory and Practice program. I also have a Research Scientist position at the Department of Sociology. My research, writing and teaching efforts are outlined below. I have been the Co-Director of the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations' Labor and Global Change Program. I remain the faculty sponsor for the Sociology Department's Project Community (Soc 325 & Soc 389) and the Residential College's Spanish Language Intership Program (SLIP).

My studies and activities over the years have convinced me that one of the most important things we can do -- if we wish to promote a more just and sustainable world -- is to build strong, democratic labor movements, embedded in legal and policy regimes that protect workers' rights to form and participate fully in unions and other labor movement organizations. Much of my writing explains why I take this view. I try to act on it (beyond writing) as well. My participation in the U.S. movement has included a leadership role in the foundation and development of the union of nontenure-track faculty at the University of Michigan (LEO) and the Washtenaw County Workers' Center (WCWC).

My movement-building work in these organizations -- and my collaborations with academics and activists, here and in other countries -- has greatly enhanced my understanding of labor movement micro- and macro-dynamics, of the logics of economic and political power in the neoliberal era, and of the relative merits of rival social justice strategies. I have discovered that movement-building and intellectual understanding (though perhaps not academic career development) have a symbiotic relationship. It has been a somewhat unorthodox but highly rewarding path.


2008. “What Explains Unorganized Workers’ Growing Demand for Unionization?”   Contribution to Symposium on Steven Lopez's Reorganizing the Rust Belt,  in 33(3) Labor Studies Journal (September 2008), pp. 235-42.

2008. “Politics, Markets, or Both?”  Contribution to Symposium on Gay Seidman's Beyond the Boycott, in 49(3) Labour History (August 2008), pp. 358-64.

2008. “Reorganizing Higher Education in the United States and Canada: The Erosion of Tenure and the Unionization of Contingent Faculty,” 33(2) Labor Studies Journal  (Summer), pp. 117-140.   (With David Dobbie).

2008. “Consumers with a Conscience:  Will They Pay More?”  in Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper, eds., The Contexts Reader.  (New York: W.W. Norton), pp. 207-214.  (With Howard Kimeldorf, Rachel Meyer, and Monica Prasad). 

2008. At what cost? Mapping the experiences of low-wage workers and assessing the impact of recent immigration on native-born workers in Washtenaw County. Report prepared for the Washtenaw County Workers' Center, June 3. (With Alice Gates)

2007. Review of Rodney Haddow and Thomas Klassen, Partisanship, Globalization, and Canadian Labour Market Policy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), in 62(4)  Relations industrielles / Industrial Relations (Fall), pp. 783-786.

2007. Review of Deborah Eade and Alan Leather, eds., Development NGOs and Labour Unions: Terms of Engagement.  (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2005), in  59 Labour / Le Travail (Winter), pp. 302-5.

2007. "The Consumer Dimension of Stakeholder Activism: The Anti-Sweatshop Movement in the United States," in Michel Feher, ed., Non-Governmental Politics (Cambridge, Mass: Zone Books, distributed by MIT Press).

2006. "Review Essay: Political Culture, Labor Movement Power, Religion, and Public Policy in Canada and the United States: Vive la difference?" 35(3) Contemporary Sociology (May 2006), pp. 237-242.
2006. "Consumers with a Conscience: Will They Pay More?" 5(1) Contexts (Winter 2006), pp. 24-29. (with Howard Kimeldorf, Rachel Meyer, and Monica Prasad)

2005. "Fighting to be Fired (But Only with Just Cause): The Unionization of Nontenure-Track Faculty," Dissent (Winter 2005), pp. 19-24. (with Jennet Kirkpatrick)

2005. "Constructing Markets for Conscientious Apparel Consumers: Adapting the “Fair Trade” Model to the Apparel Sector." Background Paper prepared for the Conference on Constructing Markets for Conscientious Apparel Consumers, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, April 1-2. (with Bama Athreya)

2004. "The Dynamics of Canadian Federalism," in James Bickerton and Alain-G. Gagnon, eds., Canadian Politics. 4th Ed. (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press), pp. 101-126. (with Richard Simeon)
2004. "Consumers of the World Unite: A Market-Based Approach to Sweatshops," Labor Studies Journal (Fall), pp. 57-79. (with Monica Prasad, Howard Kimeldorf, and Rachel Meyer)
2003. "Neoliberal Trade Policy and Canadian Federalism Revisited," in Francois Rocher and Miriam Smith, eds., New Trends in Canadian Federalism. Second Edition. Peterborough: Broadview Press, pp. 197-242.
2002. "Does Neoliberal Restructuring Promote Social Movement Unionism? U.S. Developments in Comparative Perspective," in Bruce Nissen, ed., Unions in a Globalized Environment: Changing Borders, Organizational Boundaries, and Social Roles. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, pp. 189-235.
2002. "Why Free Trade Economists Fail to Persuade," Dissent (Summer), pp. 102-6.
2002. "Political Economy, Relationship to Area and International Studies," in International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences.New York: Elsevier.

2002. Review of Enrique Dussell Peters' Polarizing Mexico: The Impact of Liberalization Strategy (Boulder, CO: Reinner, 2000) and Barbara Stallings & Wilson Peres, Growth, Employment and Equity: The Impact of Economic Reforms in Latin America and the Caribbean (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution & UN ECLAC, 2000), in 23(3) Relations industrielle / Industrial Relations, pp. 579-82.

2002. "The International Dimension of Labour Federation Economic Strategy in Canada and United States, 1947-2000," in Robert O'Brien and Jeffrey Harrod, eds., Global Unions? Theory and Strategy of Organised Labour in the Global Political Economy (London: Routledge), pp. 115-29.

2001. U.S. Labor Relations: Structure and Change Since the 1980s. Germany: Universitat Bremen, Arbeitspapier Nr. 45. December, 84 pp. (In English)

2000. "Neoliberal Restructuring and U.S. Unions: Toward Social Movement Unionism?" 26 (1/2) Critical Sociology (Winter/Spring), pp. 109-137.

2000. "Progressive Unilateralism? U.S. Unilateralism, Progressive Internationalism, and Alternatives to Neoliberalism," Published on the web only by Foreign Policy in Focus.
1999. "El ACLAN y el movimiento sindical canadiense," in Graciela Bensusan, ed., Estandares laborales despues del TLCAN. Mexico City: FLACSO, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and Plaza y Valdes Editores, pp. 127-165.
1999. "The Dynamics of Canadian Federalism," in Alain-G. Gagnon and James P. Bickerton, eds., Canadian Politics. 3rd Ed. Peterborough: Broadview Press, pp. 366-388. (with Richard Simeon)
1998. "North American Labor Federation Responses to Neoliberal Restructuring, 1978-1998," in Rodrigue Blouin and Anthony Giles, eds., L'integration economique en Amerique du Nord et les relations industrielles, Sainte-Foy, Les Presses de l'Universite Laval, 1998, pp. 119-148. (In French)
1998. "Union Responses to NAFTA in the USA and Canada: Explaining Intra- and International Variation," 3(2) Mobilization: An International Journal (Fall), pp. 163-84. (with Michael Dreiling)
1997. "The MAI and the Provinces," in Andrew Jackson and Matthew Sanger, eds., Dismantling Democracy: The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) and its Impact. Ottawa and Toronto: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and James Lorimer & Co., pp. 210-249.

1996. “Como afectera el Tratado de Libre Comercio los derechos de los trabajeros en America del Norte?” in Graciela Bensusán y Arnulfo Arteaga, coordinadores, Integración Regional y Relaciones Industriales en América del Norte.  México: FLACSO, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Unidad Iztapalapa, pp. 157-195.

1995. "Globalization and Democracy," Dissent (Summer), pp. 373-380.

1995. "The NAFTA Labour Accord in Canada: Experience, Prospects, and Alternatives," Symposium on NAFTA at Age One: A Blueprint for Hemispheric Integration? 10(2) Connecticut Journal of International Law (Spring), pp. 475-531.
1995. "Democratic Critiques of the Institutions and Processes of Neoliberal Economic Integration: An Assessment," 24 Cahiers de recherche sociologique, pp. 161-84. (In English)
1994. "How will the NAFTA Affect Worker Rights in North America?" in Maria Lorena Cook and Harry C. Katz, eds., Regional Integration and Industrial Relations in North America. Ithaca: Institute of Collective Bargaining, NYSSILR, Cornell University, pp. 105-31.
1994. "NAFTA, Social Unionism, and Labour Movement Power in Canada and the United States," 49(4) Relations industrielles / Industrial Relations (December), pp. 657-695.
1994. "Why a Trade-Linked International Social Charter: A Reply to John Richards," 3 Inroads (Summer), pp. 18-25.
1993. North American Trade As If Democracy Mattered: What's Wrong with the NAFTA and What are the Alternatives? Ottawa and Washington, D.C.: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and International Labor Rights Education and Research Fund.

1993. Review of Joel Bakan & David Schneiderman, eds., Social Justice and the Constitution: Perspectives on a Social Union for Canada (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1992), in 19(1) Queen's Law Journal (Fall), pp. 443-50.

1993. "The NAFTA, the Side-Deals, and Canadian Federalism: Constitutional Reform by Other Means?" in Douglas Brown and Ronald Watts, eds., The State of the Federation, 1992-1993. Kingston: Institute for Intergovernmental Relations, Queen's University, pp. 193-227.

1993. "Economistic Unionism in Crisis: The Origins, Consequences, and Prospects of Canada-U.S. Labour Movement Character Divergence," in Jane Jenson and Rianne Mahon, eds., The Challenge of Restructuring: North American Labor Movements Respond. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, pp. 19-47.
1990. State, Society, and the Development of Canadian Federalism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. (with Richard Simeon)
Ongoing Research and Writing

I am working on a paper that will explores the concept of "complimentary labor movement organizations" -- that is, organizations that are not unions, but which share the larger objectives that define the labor movement qua social movement and, for this reason, can help to strengthen the movement as a whole and the position of unions in this context. This category includes workers' centers, the anti-sweatshop movement, ACORN, and the AFL-CIO's Working America. The paper will also consider the conditions under which it makes sense for national labor federations and affiliated unions to provide financial and other forms of support such organizations. This work is part of my ongoing collaboration with the research consortium organized by the Centre de Recherche Inter-Universitaire sur la Mondialisation et le Travail (CRIMT), based at the University of Montreal and funded by Canada's Social Science and Humanities Research Council.

In addition to this conceptual piece, I am working on questions pertaining to two specific non-union components of the broader labor movement: anti-sweatshop organizations and workers' centers. As regards the anti-sweatshop movement, my colleagues and I have published two essays (listed above) documenting the level of consumer willingness to pay more for clothing warranted to be sweat-free in a department store experiment. We recently completed a third paper that documents very similar consumer purchasing behavior in an American Apparel store that claims that all of its products are sweat-free, and are looking for a place to publish it. Together, the evidence discussed in these papers suggests that the failure to provide many sweat-free alternatives to the global sweatshop norm in this industry constitutes a massive market failure. It is important to explain why this failure persists -- that is, why none of the major brand and none of the major retailers has so far responded to this unmet demand with genuinely sweat-free production (as distinct from implausible claims to be trying to do so) -- and a future paper will be devoted to this question.. We will also write a paper that applies sociological approaches to a question that the literature has so far failed to answer convincingly: what distinguishes those who are ethical consumers from those who are not.

As regards workers' centers, Alice Gates and I have worked with the Washtenaw County Workers' Center to collect and analyze survey data documenting conditions of low-wage service work in Washtenaw County, with particular focus on the restaurant sector. Our report, while really only a working paper, is listed in my publications above. More work on the restaurant sector will be forthcoming. I may also do an investigation of the home cleaning sector as well. In both contexts, I will try to use the detailed picture of local labor markets that we are able to paint to explore the question of the effects of undocumented immigrant workers on wages and the job prospects of native-born workers -- a hot-button political issue on which the micro-level empirical evidence required to really understand what is going on is suprisingly sparse. Our initial report has already had something to say about this, but in a near-full-employment situation. It will be important to revisit the question in the new context of economic recession and high unemployment.

I am also working on two aspects of the union component of labor movements: the role of central federations in promoting revitalizing movement innovation, and the role of faculty unions in fighting the spread of contingent labor in higher education. My research on labor federations will be conducted in collaboration with CRIMT colleagues from the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia. My piece of this larger project will focus on the United States. We will document what national labor federations and their subnational components (e.g. state AFL-CIO and central labor councils) have done to promote union renewal in each country, and try to explain why these efforts have been more or less ambitious and more or less successful. We hope that we will be able to expand the comparison in a second round beyond these "most similar cases" to encompass other rich capital polyarchies in which labor movements and central federations are configured in very different ways (e.g., France, Germany, Italy and Sweden).

Regarding higher education faculty unions in the United States and Canada , I will be building on the work that I co-published with David Dobbie. Our next step is to assess the likely effects of different strategies that faculty unions and organizations such as the AAUP are advocating in response to the challenges posed by the growing share of faculty who are employed as contingent labor. There are two broad strategic approaches: legislative and collective bargaining. The legislative strand includes ideas such as legislatively mandated caps on the share of nontenure faculty that public institutions may employ, and/or the allocation of government money for the specific purpose of rising the salaries of nontenure-track faculty and reducing the gap with tenure track faculty, and/or paying for the promotion of qualified nontenure-track faculty into the tenure ranks. Collective bargaining focused efforts begin with organizing all nontenure-track faculty into bargaining units that are part of -- or cooperate with -- those in which tenure-track faculty are found. Collective bargaining is then used to reduce the wage gaps between tenured and nontenured, and between full-time and part-time, to create viable bridges from the nontenure to the tenure track. The central questions are whether either of these approaches have yielded much success to date, and if not, why not.

It is also time to update my work on the evolution of North American economic integration and its implications for labor movement and labor market dynamics. We are now at a particularly important juncture in that evolution. Neoliberal economic ideology, and associated practices of anti-labor regulation and financial market deregulation, have led us into a profound economic crisis. In the short run, the economic disaster further weakens unions, forcing them to focus on damage control. But in the longer run, the neoliberal implosion has undercut the hegemony of the neoliberal vision, creating the space for rethinking global and continental economic intergration and the role of organized labor in economic development. To a lesser but still significant degree, the crisis has also altered the balance of political power, somewhat increasing our capacity to shift policies and institutions in a direction more compatible with workers' interests, democratic principles, and ecosystem sustainability.

One piece of this re-building will be re-writing the labor and environmental side-accords to NAFTA, whether the new provisions are inserted into a renegotiated NAFTA, or remain in "side deals." I will be working with colleagues to identify the most important ways in which in which worker rights have been suppressed in each NAFTA country, and the kinds of changes to the side deal's provisions required to make it an effective tool against employer and state repression of these rights. Beyond the labor component of the new system lie the larger questions of to reconcile ecological sustainability and human development imperatives, what kinds of supra-national continental institutions will be required (beyond NAFTA and its side-deals), and how the continental economy should be inserted into the global economy. I hope to contribute to these larger discussions as well.

On the very different terrain of pedagogy, I have begun a new research project on the impacts of University of Michigan undergraduate participation in community service learning (CSL) courses on attitudes, beliefs and activities after graduation. Preliminary findings suggest that the impacts are substantial. There is a lot of published research on learning outcomes of CSL within the period during which the course is taught (i.e., entry and exit interviews and/or surveys). However, there is very little work -- and most of that anecdotal -- on the longer term impacts of such educational experiences. This research will contribute to filling that gap.

Courses in Academic Year 2008-9
Sociology 102: Race and Class Inequalities in Detroit, the USA, and Beyond (Fall 2008)

The relationship between social inequalities (in economic resources and educational opportunities, in status and respect, and in legal rights and political power) and social structures of ethno-racial assignment and class have long been a central interest of sociologists. This course introduces students to sociology as a mode of inquiry by exploring how sociologists and others analyze the evolution of race and class structures, and associated social inequalities in the metro Detroit area and in the United States more broadly. We ask what causes social inequalities of the sort we find, why they evolve as they do, how they affect individuals, communities, and the nation, and what can be done to reduce social inequalities that are harmful and unjust. In responding to these larger questions, we step back to compare social inequalities in the United States with those in other rich, capitalist polyarchies, and to explore the reasons for the substantial international variations we find. National differences in labor movement power are, it turns out, one of the critical explanatory variables.

Residential College Social Science 301: The Origins of Social Science Thinking (Fall 2008)

This course, co-taught with Charles Bright, introduces students to some of the key thinkers in the early development of the social sciences and traces the movement of their ideas into American universities as academic disciplines. Other faculty from the Residential College's Social Theory and Practice concentration, for which this is a required course, participate in the course, leading the discussion theorists in which they have expertise. For most sessions, students read (1) an original text laying out some key concepts and theories, (2) an essay situating the development of theoretical insights in their historical and social context, and (3) a reflection on the lasting effects of these theoretical innovations. The course is run as a seminar and relies heavily on student contributions to the discussion. Of particular interest are the impact on our understanding of social dynamics of carving the social world up into separate disciplinary boxes within academia, the politics that both shape and flow from the what is included and excluded from each of these boxes, and the impact of the growing division between the academy and social movements (e.g., the labor movement, the settlement house movement) on the kinds of questions asked, and the kinds of answered favored, by those engaged in social analysis.

Sociology 325: Sociology of Service Learning (Fall 2008 / Winter 2009)
Project Community, begun when students returning from civil rights work in the South contacted University of Michigan professors in the hope of getting some academic credit for parallel work that they did in Michigan, is one of the longest-running community service learning courses in the country. In any given term, 150-200 university undergraduates engage in a wide variety of activities at about 30 community sites organized into five program areas: education, public health, criminal justice, gender & sexuality, and organizing for social justice. Discussion of sociological, historical and journalistic readings, chosen to correspond to and contextualize site experiences for each program area, is led by undergraduate peer-facilitators. Sociology 325 provides these peer facilitators with the tools they need to play this challenging leadership role effectively: an understanding of relevant sociological theories, and a knowledge of the best practices developed by their predecessors in this role and the faculty, grad student instructors and staff who work with them. As the Faculty Sponsor and Instructor for Project Community, I offer this course every semester.
Residential College Social Science 360, Section 2: Political Struggles in Mexico: Seminar and Field Study (Winter 2009)

In the last 20 years, Mexico’s political and economic systems have undergone major changes, driven by a deep and sustained economic crisis, and by popular mobilizations challenging government responses to that crisis.  Participants in these struggles have demanded changes in economic policy, an end to political corruption, a more democratic political system, greater autonomy from state intervention for indigenous communities, unions and other civil society organizations, and effective state protection of basic human, indigenous and worker rights.   These struggles have been particularly intense in the nation’s capital and in the relatively poor, rural and indigenous states to its south, notably Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Puebla.  The course examines the causes, dynamics and results of these struggles, situating them in the last 200 years of Mexican history.   We use the work of historians, social scientists, novelists and activists to obtain multiple perspectives on Mexican history and on the significance and dynamics of the current struggles. The course culminates in a two-week field trip to the Federal District, and two of the three southern states. We meet with human, labor and indigenous rights activists, factory management, government officials, and fair trade coffee producers. This year, to our great disappointment, our field trip had to be canceled due to the swine flu outbreak.

Other Activities

Lecturer Employees' Organization (LEO)
Since January of 2002, I have helped to organize an build the Lecturer Employees' Organization (LEO), Local 6244, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. LEO represents the over 1,300 nontenure-track faculty on the three campuses (Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn) of the University of Michigan. I was the Co-Chair of LEO's Ann Arbor Campus Council for several years and am now the Chair of its Solidarity Committee. This work has been challenging and time-consuming but also very rewarding. With about half of all faculty in four-year public universities nontenure track, and an even larger share of teachers (since this category includes graduate student instructors), I am convinced that the best hope for the survival of academic freedom and high quality public higher education, lies in the organization of nontenure track faculty into unions, and the use of their collective bargaining power to protect these things.
Washtenaw County Workers' Center (WCWC)
Since January of 2006, I have been helping to build the Washtenaw County Workers' Center (WCWC). Workers' centers organize low-wage (often immigrant) workers in sectors of the economy where it is difficult or impossible to form unions -- notably, heavily contracted-out components of private services and the "informal" sector. As Janice Fine documents, there were less then 10 such centers only a decade ago; today there are at least 140. The WCWC, which organizes in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas, the Restaurant Opportunities Center-Michigan (ROC-MI), which organizes in the metro Detroit area, and the Centro Obrero, based in the immigrant community of southwest Detroit, are three recent additions to this growing component of the labor movement. The WCWC is now working in partnership with ROC-MI to organize restaurant workers in Washtenaw County. We also partner with the Centro Obrero when we can.