Global workers’ rights rallies planned Dec. 10

By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor

In Portland, across the United States, and elsewhere in the world, trade unionists will gather Dec. 10 in honor of a document — the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The declaration, adopted Dec. 10, 1948, by the newly-formed United Nations, is like a Bill of Rights for the world. And among those human rights are workers’ rights, such as, in Article 23: “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

That has its counterpart in the preamble to the National Labor Relations Act, the 1935 law that “legalized” unions in the United States: “It is declared to be the policy of the United States … [to encourage] the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and [protect] the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection."

“Nice words,” say some workers here and abroad, “but we have a long way to go.”

Even in the United States, most workers don’t have the protection of a union — some because they are excluded by law, more because the briarpatch of U.S. labor laws gives employers every advantage in preventing workers from certifying a union and bargaining a first contract.

So unions, with whatever allies they can find, have been organizing marches and protests each Dec. 10, calling for improvements to the law in the United States and respect for workers’ rights everywhere. To fix flaws in U.S. labor law, unions are backing the Employee Free Choice Act introduced in Congress last year. The bill would increase penalties for employers’ violation of workers’ rights and make it easier for workers to unionize.

In Portland, the event will start at noon, Saturday, Dec. 10, at U.S. Senator Gordon Smith's office, 121 SW Salmon St. Backing the event is a coalition that includes both AFL-CIO and Change To Win federation unions; Portland Jobs With Justice; environmental groups like the Sierra Club , Cascadia Rising, and Northwest Resistance Against Genetic Engineering; and other trade and solidarity groups.

Organizers are asking each union to send at least 10 members to the event, if possible marching together with their union T-shirts and banners. Starting at Senator Smit’s office, a march will snake through downtown Portland and end up at Terry Schrunk Plaza, where Stewart Acuff, director of the Organizing Department of the national AFL-CIO, will speak. The Eugene event had not been finalized at press time.

Trade policy will be a theme of this year's Dec. 10 events, which comes three days before a Hong Kong “Ministerial” meeting of the World Trade Organization.

The WTO has been writing a kind of Constitution for world trade, but without a bill of rights for the world’s workers. Defenders of the WTO say protecting workers’ rights isn’t the WTO’s responsibility: That’s the job of the United Nations — and the International Labor Organization, which was formed by the League of Nations in 1918. [That’s the same ILO which has been powerless to stop workers’ rights abuses anywhere on the planet for 87 years.]

An educational forum on the global economy will be held Saturday, Dec. 17, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Koinonia House, 633 SW Montgomery Street, Portland.

Home | About

© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.