David Ost, the Joseph DiGangi Professor of Political Science, recently spoke about the economic and political future of Eastern Europe at two conferences in Warsaw, Poland.
Sponsored by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the European Solidarity Center, “Trade Unions in Europe: Taking Stock and Mapping Future Prospects” began Thursday, Oct. 17 and was attended by, among others, the leaders of the three trade union federations in Poland.
Invited because of his extensive scholarship on Polish politics and labor relations, Ost spoke about challenges and opportunities facing unions in Eastern Europe and the world in a period of continued capitalist crisis, from the economic effects of globalization to the future of the trade unions in Europe and Asia.
But the highlight of the conference, Ost says, “was simply speaking directly with the leaders of all three trade union federations-not just to the press but to these people who are decision-makers and opinion-formers in their own right.”
As far as other speakers, Ost was particularly struck with Olivier Hobel, the head of the Berlin section of the giant German trade union “IG Metall.” Hobel’s comments, Ost says, “epitomized the difficulties I began my talk with about the structural weakness of organized labor in Europe in this particular systemic moment.”
A day later, Ost was a keynote speaker at the conference titled “Patriotism and the Left,” sponsored by the journal “Against Dogma.”
This “mini-conference,” Ost says, “was quite exciting. In Poland, as elsewhere, it is the political right that has claimed to be the most nationalist and patriotic. This has had the effect of pushing liberals away from a discourse connected to ‘the nation.'”
In his talk, Ost cautioned that this shift away from that discourse “can easily backfire: in any social movement it is crucial to speak the language and deploy the symbols that will get you a hearing, and disdaining ‘the nation’ because the right is so attached to it will only help the political right.”
Ost has written widely on East European politics and society, with a focus on political economy, democratization, capitalism, and labor. Fellowships, appointments as a visiting professor, and numerous research visits have brought him into close association with scholars and policy makers in Poland and the surrounding areas, making him one of the leading experts on the domestic politics and international relations of the area.