The Attack On US Workers' Rights

Protesters join forces to kill Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's bill during a rally at the Capital Building on February 18, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mark Hirsch/Getty Images)

Legislation currently working it’s way through several US states would drastically restrict workers’ rights and violate numerous laws.

States including Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee–following Wisconsin’s lead–have recently proposed bills severely limiting the collective bargaining rights of trade union members.

Shane Enright, Amnesty International’s trade union adviser said that, if adopted, these measures would violate international law:

“The US has an obligation to uphold the rights of American workers – including the specific right to organize and bargain collectively.”

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed a bill on Friday that undermines the ability of unions in the public sector to protect workers. The legislation also takes away nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public employees, limiting their negotiation rights only to wages.

As well as restricting collective bargaining rights, union activists say legislators in as many as 37 states have introduced hundreds of anti-union bills. Some affect negotiation of healthcare benefits, restrict freedom of association, place caps on the minimum wage and deprive workers of the right to strike.

Similar measures being promoted in Congress would affect federal public employees.

The Wisconsin bill is symbolic of a wider attack on unions in the USA, where workers and are facing an onslaught from the authorities.

Many employees are already struggling because of the economic crisis and these laws will undermine fundamental human rights and labor rights protections, which are sorely needed to ensure that employees do not bear the brunt of the crisis. It will also jeopardize the delivery of vital public services that these employees deliver.

Under international law, all workers have a human right to organize and to bargain collectively.

These rights are an essential foundation to the realization of other rights, and are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, as well as conventions adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

As a state party to the ICCPR and a signatory to the ICESCR, the USA has an obligation to respect the human rights under these instruments and treaties.

As a member of the ILO, the USA also has a commitment, through the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, to respect, promote and realize the fundamental rights set out in the organization’s core conventions.

Moves to limit such rights in the USA are also at odds with commitments made under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) as well as numerous subsequent trade agreements negotiated and ratified over the last 15 years.

Fundamental human rights are at stake, and we stand in solidarity with the US labor movement in this struggle.

AIUSA welcomes a lively and courteous discussion that follow our Community Guidelines. Comments are not pre-screened before they post but AIUSA reserves the right to remove any comments violating our guidelines.

14 thoughts on “The Attack On US Workers' Rights

  1. And now we will begin to see just where looking the other way has taken us. Will we stand now, or continue to be intimidated by a government that leaches away our liberties whilst crooning, "it's for your own good."

    None of this stuff is news. But if people begin to take a stand against the subtle oppression that is coming to light, now THAT will be newsworthy.

  2. I want to remind all of us of the crucial scene in the movie "Remains of the Day" in which a pro-Nazi guest of Lord Darlington says, "I am proud to say that in Hitler's Germany they don't have to be concerned now with trade unionists!"

    Ladies and gentlemen: I give you Gov. Scott Walker. His fascist puppetmasters are surely smiling.

  3. Glad to see Amnesty International is taking a stand on this. I'm from Wisconsin, and from the get-go this situation wreaked of human rights violations (Walker's threat of calling in the National Guard brought back memories of Central America in the '80's. Luckily we have laws in this country to prevent that kind of situation, but if Walker, Snyder, and all the other big-business pundits had their way, that WOULD be us.) We have to stay strong… Workers rights ARE human rights, whether you're working on a plantation, in a classroom, or in the steel factory.

  4. As a long-time AI supporter and Wisconsin citizen, thank you for bringing our struggle for basic democracy and worker rights to the attention of the world. We will claw back our rights! Please support our recall efforts and boycott M & I bank.

  5. And now we will begin to see just where looking the other way has taken us. Will we stand now, or continue to be intimidated by a government that leaches away our liberties whilst crooning, “it’s for your own good.”

    None of this stuff is news. But if people begin to take a stand against the subtle oppression that is coming to light, now THAT will be newsworthy.

  6. I want to remind all of us of the crucial scene in the movie “Remains of the Day” in which a pro-Nazi guest of Lord Darlington says, “I am proud to say that in Hitler’s Germany they don’t have to be concerned now with trade unionists!”

    Ladies and gentlemen: I give you Gov. Scott Walker. His fascist puppetmasters are surely smiling.

  7. Glad to see Amnesty International is taking a stand on this. I’m from Wisconsin, and from the get-go this situation wreaked of human rights violations (Walker’s threat of calling in the National Guard brought back memories of Central America in the ’80′s. Luckily we have laws in this country to prevent that kind of situation, but if Walker, Snyder, and all the other big-business pundits had their way, that WOULD be us.) We have to stay strong… Workers rights ARE human rights, whether you’re working on a plantation, in a classroom, or in the steel factory.

  8. As a long-time AI supporter and Wisconsin citizen, thank you for bringing our struggle for basic democracy and worker rights to the attention of the world. We will claw back our rights! Please support our recall efforts and boycott M & I bank.

  9. I applaud Gov Walker and like minded / free thinking people.

    Teachers and other public servants ought be employed, paid, and given benefits pursuant to merit in the workplace.

    Those that have something to fear are the slackers and the unions themselves. And the DNC whose campaign contributions will drop – if people aren't forced to pay union dues – that in turn get donated to politicians (regardless of the desires of the individual rank-and-file union members)

    Once union membership and mandatory dues are no longer a prerequisite for employment – watch the numbers drop.

    Ever wonder why the wisconsin public service unions (supposedly looking out for it's members and the "working class") were so quick to concede on everything but mandatory membership/dues and collective bargaining?

    It is about time the electorate and tax payers (through elected officials) determine these things.

    Unions have and have had a role in shaping the U.S. Not in the public sector. Even President Obama's entire staff of millions of federal employees can not collectively bargain — yet somehow they are not working in sweatshops and enjoy some sweet pay and benefits. It is time to get real and get honest on this debate.

  10. I applaud Gov Walker and like minded / free thinking people.

    Teachers and other public servants ought be employed, paid, and given benefits pursuant to merit in the workplace.

    Those that have something to fear are the slackers and the unions themselves. And the DNC whose campaign contributions will drop – if people aren’t forced to pay union dues – that in turn get donated to politicians (regardless of the desires of the individual rank-and-file union members)

    Once union membership and mandatory dues are no longer a prerequisite for employment – watch the numbers drop.

    Ever wonder why the wisconsin public service unions (supposedly looking out for it’s members and the “working class”) were so quick to concede on everything but mandatory membership/dues and collective bargaining?

    It is about time the electorate and tax payers (through elected officials) determine these things.

    Unions have and have had a role in shaping the U.S. Not in the public sector. Even President Obama’s entire staff of millions of federal employees can not collectively bargain — yet somehow they are not working in sweatshops and enjoy some sweet pay and benefits. It is time to get real and get honest on this debate.

  11. Dear Private Sector Taxpayer ….

    Thank you for calling for an "honest" debate !

    A question : Do you know what unions …. & Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, & Sean Hannity ….. have in common ?

    The last 3 gentlemen are ALL vociferously ANTI – union .

    & they are ALL , all three of them, DUES – paying members of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists ( AFTRA ), a union which is an affiliate of the AFL – CIO.

    You're in the private sector, you say ?

    The working hours of private workers … their health benefits & pensions …. the sick & maternity leaves they're entitled to, their holidays … their legal protections & safety nets …. where have all these rights & benefits & protections they enjoy come from ?

    Did they fall from the sky ?

    No.

    Were they ALWAYS there ?

    No.

    Were they FREELY granted by the kind corporations ?

    No.

    They came from the long, arduous battles, movements & sacrifices of working people organized in unions.

    & the "sweet pay & benefits" "Obama's millions of federal employees" enjoy, that you mention?

    Where did their "sweet pay & benefits" come from ?

    From the same struggle of the unions which fought for & established these rights & benefits for all employees throughout society.

    & the "sweatshop" conditions you refer to ?

    They were the very conditions of Western working people's lives throughout the 19th & much of the first half of the 20th centuries.

    Did these conditions simply up & vanish by themselves one day ?

    No.

    They were cleared out gradually by the endless, painstaking struggle of the working people.

    & you call them "slackers" ??

    & you complain you're "forced to pay union dues " ??

    Why do you think even O'Reilly, Limbaugh & Hannity pay their union dues WITHOUT complaining ?

    Because they enjoy the benefits their union provides them with …. just like you enjoy them; just like everyone else does.

    Because unions don't survive on air .

    They need money to survive, like all the rest of us.

    You "applaud Walker & like minded / free thinking people."

    "Free thinking ?"

    Does "free thinking" give Walker & his like the freedom to violate the Constitutional rights of citizens ?

    For that's exactly what the Rights of organizing & collective bargaining are !

    They are the Constitutionally protected Rights of ALL employees & working people !

  12. Dear Private Sector Taxpayer ….

    Thank you for calling for an “honest” debate !

    A question : Do you know what unions …. & Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, & Sean Hannity ….. have in common ?

    The last 3 gentlemen are ALL vociferously ANTI – union .

    & they are ALL , all three of them, DUES – paying members of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists ( AFTRA ), a union which is an affiliate of the AFL – CIO.

    You’re in the private sector, you say ?

    The working hours of private workers … their health benefits & pensions …. the sick & maternity leaves they’re entitled to, their holidays … their legal protections & safety nets …. where have all these rights & benefits & protections they enjoy come from ?

    Did they fall from the sky ?

    No.

    Were they ALWAYS there ?

    No.

    Were they FREELY granted by the kind corporations ?

    No.

    They came from the long, arduous battles, movements & sacrifices of working people organized in unions.

    & the “sweet pay & benefits” “Obama’s millions of federal employees” enjoy, that you mention?

    Where did their “sweet pay & benefits” come from ?

    From the same struggle of the unions which fought for & established these rights & benefits for all employees throughout society.

    & the “sweatshop” conditions you refer to ?

    They were the very conditions of Western working people’s lives throughout the 19th & much of the first half of the 20th centuries.

    Did these conditions simply up & vanish by themselves one day ?

    No.

    They were cleared out gradually by the endless, painstaking struggle of the working people.

    & you call them “slackers” ??

    & you complain you’re “forced to pay union dues ” ??

    Why do you think even O’Reilly, Limbaugh & Hannity pay their union dues WITHOUT complaining ?

    Because they enjoy the benefits their union provides them with …. just like you enjoy them; just like everyone else does.

    Because unions don’t survive on air .

    They need money to survive, like all the rest of us.

    You “applaud Walker & like minded / free thinking people.”

    “Free thinking ?”

    Does “free thinking” give Walker & his like the freedom to violate the Constitutional rights of citizens ?

    For that’s exactly what the Rights of organizing & collective bargaining are !

    They are the Constitutionally protected Rights of ALL employees & working people !

  13. I'm not sure what O'Reilly, Limbaugh and Hannity have to do with Wisconsin PUBLIC Sector Unions. If they CHOOSE to join a union and believe that the Union is out for there best interest and that they are not subsidized by tax-payers – power to them.

    You are trying to equate two separate things. Apples and Oranges my friend.

    When I refer to SLACKERS… I am refering to the very small percentage of public service employees that give the rest a bad name… BUT they are protected – and the rest work a little harder and earn a little less that they would have otherwise. Don't believe me? Google Megan Sampson TEACHER OF THE YEAR – but first to go because of Union rules.

    You also missed the part where I said Unions have and do have a role in shaping the U.S. For the most part that time is past… there are enough federal and state laws protecting public sector employees. What they are doing in Wisc is LIMITING areas of collective bargaining and making membership and dues VOLUNTARY. You are among those trying to twist this debate and convince people this is an attack on the working class. This is a defense of the working class – particularly the tax payers.

    Your comment would suggest right-to-work states are violating the Constitution of the U.S.? File lawsuit in all those States and find out.

    The Unions spent over $10 million dollars of hard earned rank-and-file members WORKING CLASS $$ to endorse Lt Gov Bill Halter this past year in Arkansas' Democratic Primary. He was defeated by Blanche Lincoln and she in turn was defeated by the Republican John Boozman. That money would have been better spent/used/invested by the WORKING CLASS people that earned it.

    Yeah – that is what they need the involuntary dues for AND that is what is fueling this debate. Those beating drums, having "sit-ins" in the state capital, and chanting this is what democracy looks like (obviously ignoring democracy) are very confused and in many cases useful idiots.

  14. I’m not sure what O’Reilly, Limbaugh and Hannity have to do with Wisconsin PUBLIC Sector Unions. If they CHOOSE to join a union and believe that the Union is out for there best interest and that they are not subsidized by tax-payers – power to them.

    You are trying to equate two separate things. Apples and Oranges my friend.

    When I refer to SLACKERS… I am refering to the very small percentage of public service employees that give the rest a bad name… BUT they are protected – and the rest work a little harder and earn a little less that they would have otherwise. Don’t believe me? Google Megan Sampson TEACHER OF THE YEAR – but first to go because of Union rules.

    You also missed the part where I said Unions have and do have a role in shaping the U.S. For the most part that time is past… there are enough federal and state laws protecting public sector employees. What they are doing in Wisc is LIMITING areas of collective bargaining and making membership and dues VOLUNTARY. You are among those trying to twist this debate and convince people this is an attack on the working class. This is a defense of the working class – particularly the tax payers.

    Your comment would suggest right-to-work states are violating the Constitution of the U.S.? File lawsuit in all those States and find out.

    The Unions spent over $10 million dollars of hard earned rank-and-file members WORKING CLASS $$ to endorse Lt Gov Bill Halter this past year in Arkansas’ Democratic Primary. He was defeated by Blanche Lincoln and she in turn was defeated by the Republican John Boozman. That money would have been better spent/used/invested by the WORKING CLASS people that earned it.

    Yeah – that is what they need the involuntary dues for AND that is what is fueling this debate. Those beating drums, having “sit-ins” in the state capital, and chanting this is what democracy looks like (obviously ignoring democracy) are very confused and in many cases useful idiots.