Saturday, 21 July 2012

Union Rights as Human Rights

For some time now I have felt that the language of the UK labour movement needs to change, and that this change needs to take account of the impact of austerity and the stark, daily manifestations of the naked exposure of greed and cover up across the private sector from Barclays to G4S.

In a nutshell, I feel that we should argue not for justice for workers, but for social justice on the basis that it builds a common cause with the plight of all those facing inequality, discrimination and injustice of some form as a result of bankrupt systems of government and finance.

In their new book Richard D. Kahlenberg and Moshe Z. Marvit advance a similar argument, although their concern is that the basic right to organise in the US should be enshrined within an amendment to the Civil Rights Act.

As the book review posted on In These Times outlines: The authors propose amending the Civil Rights Act to bar discrimination on the basis of exercising the right to unionize, just as employers are currently prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, gender, religion, marital status, physical ability and – in some jurisdictions – sexual orientation. They write, “The statute would effectively shift the basic right of an employee to join or organize a union from what has long been conceived of as a collective right to an individual right.”

Although I first came across the book on this site, there is a fuller review, with accompanying videos with the authors on The Century Foundation website:

In a deft rebutall of a negative review of the book, Kahlenberg reminds us in a subsequent article ( of the principle argument that he and Marvit are making and if you read the thrust of this paragraph, you'll see where (I hope) there is an overlap with my position of the notion of social justice advanced earlier:

The proposal to make labor organizing a civil right will be difficult for opponents to mischaracterize because Americans have an almost intuitive sense of what civil rights mean. Unlike labor law, civil rights have become so legitimated in American culture that it is difficult to mischaracterize the issue. From Ann Coulter’s bizarre response that civil rights only apply to African-Americans (and not to other racial or ethnic groups, sex, or religion) to this response that the true civil right is to lower the minimum wage for workers, conservatives have been unable to formulate a coherent and credible response to the idea that workers have a civil right to organize. Instead of debating labor rights in the arena of labor law, where conservatives have seized and controlled the upper hand for decades, workers’ rights should be fought on the field of civil rights, where progressives have retained the moral high ground and power.

Any comments, questions, feedback welcome.

In Solidarity


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