Tag Archives: Human Rights Watch

Labor was once central to the liberal imagination; today, not so much.

22 Jun

While we’re all arguing about what went down in Wisconsin and about the state of the labor movement, I hope we can agree that the rights of labor are central to any notion of a decent and just society.  Sadly, that proposition remains controversial, and even liberals have retreated from it in recent decades.  (Which is why this post from liberal political theorist Elizabeth Anderson was so refreshing!)

In this must-read piece, Mark Ames details the sorry retreat of prominent human rights groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the ACLU from any real commitment to labor rights.  Ames doesn’t mention two excellent reports that the ACLU and Human Rights Watch did prepare on the rights of labor—The Rights of Employees and Unfair Advantage (and Human Rights Watch also authored this excellent report on Wal-Mart’s violation of labor rights).  But the publication dates of these reports—1984, 2000—only underscore Ames’s point. Labor was once central to the liberal imagination; today, not so much.

In Ames’s words:

Go to Amnesty International’s home page at www.amnesty.org. On the right side, under “Human Rights Information” you’ll see a pull-down menu: “by topic.” Does labor count as a “Human Rights topic” in Amnesty’s world? I counted 27 “topics” listed by Amnesty International, including “Abolish the death penalty”, “Indigenous Peoples”, “ “Children and Human Rights” and so on. Nowhere do they have “labor unions” despite the brutal, violent experience of labor unions both here and around the world. It’s not that Amnesty’s range isn’t broad: For example, among the 27 topics there are “Women’s rights”, “Stop Violence Against Women” and “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”. There’s even a topic for “Business and Human Rights”—but nothing for labor.

Puzzled, I called Alex Edwards, Amnesty’s Media Relations guy in Washington DC, to ask him why labor unions didn’t rate important enough as a “topic” on Amnesty’s “list of topics.” Edwards was confused, claimed that he was totally unaware that there was a “list of topics” on Amnesty’s home page, and promised to get back to me. I haven’t heard back from him.

Check out the rest here.

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