ALR Dialogue: Diane Frey

Diane Frey (pictured third from right), former assistant professor and director of labor studies at the National Labor College, is a senior consultant to the ALR Project. She is also an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard University Summer School. Prior to her academic career, she was a labor organizer and field representative for a number of U.S. and British unions. Dr. Frey received a Ph.D. in International Comparative Employment Relations from the London School of Economics.

ALR: Tell us about your experience working at the China Project.

Diane Frey:  It’s been a wonderful and unexpected opportunity to work on the project.  Greg Mantsios, May Chen, as well as other partners Elaine Bernard (Harvard), Kent Wong (UCLA) and Katie Quan (UC Berkley) had created an intriguing vision for exchange, education and collaboration with Chinese partners. Also, it was immediately apparent that the project team was an amazing group of people. We have managed to accomplish a great deal of work while also having a lot of fun in the process. On a serious note, I also really liked that the project had both academic and practical components. I was a union organizer for many years before I received my degree and so the merging of theory and practice is very important to me. The last piece that I think is important to mention is that, coming from Greg’s initial vision of the project, there was always the fundamental premise that China and the U.S. have much to learn from each other. 

ALR: Were you familiar with China before coming to work on the Project?

Diane Frey:  Yes and no. I had never travelled to China, but as a student of comparative employment relations, I studied the Chinese employment system. When I did my Ph.D. at LSE, a colleague was finishing her Ph.D. on China’s transition from the Iron Rice Bowl.  When I was first exposed to the notion that studying employment systems could be done from a comparative approach, it was with a group of fellow master’s degree students from China. We learned together and it made it all so much more meaningful.

ALR: What has been the focus of your Project research work?

Diane Frey: My work has involved identifying academic and practical resources on comparative employment relations. It’s a simple thing to say that we “want to be comparative,” but it’s a different matter altogether to deepen the resources and understanding of what it means to take a comparative approach. It’s been great fun to work on the website feature Labor in Comparative Perspective (LICP). In this work, I basically search for freely accessible academic articles, books, and other materials that are specifically comparative. I review the pieces and write up short narratives to try to highlight their usefulness to scholars and practitioners interested in comparative approaches. In addition, I search for relevant and accessible academic articles. We translate and post the abstracts along with links to the articles in the Articles in Focus (AIF) part of the website.

ALR: Are you doing other research related to China?

Diane Frey: Yes, China, as the largest employment system on the planet, figures prominently in my own research. For example, I am researching and writing on the right of workers to strike, and examining international and national systems to govern the right to strike. China played a significant role at the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2015 when controversy over the right to strike threatened to shut down the ILO’s labor standards supervisory machinery. China is a member of the ILO’s governing body as well as a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognizes the right to strike. I’ve been examining China’s role within the ILO during the controversy. Another part of this research agenda involves comparing collective bargaining rights, including the right to strike of public school teachers. I hope to compare theses rights in the U.S., China, and India and to use international labor standards as the benchmark against which all three are compared. The U.S. has seen some severe restrictions on collective bargaining rights of public employees including teachers, and so I am curious to see how we compare.