From the TUC

How human rights help unions organise

25 Jan 2009, By

There are two ways in which this works.

One is the obvious: without freedom of expression, the right to life, and freedom to organise, trade unionists tend to get shot, harassed or excluded from the workplace. And without freedom to bargain collectively, they have less to offer their potential members. These are all fundamental human rights, even though it’s often only freedom of expression and the right to life that people think of, rather than the rights contained in the ILO’s core labour standards. But the fact is, those core labour standards are indeed considered as fundamental human rights (by the UN, who are the arbiters in this) and also by our own Government, the European Convention on Human Rights and so on. And rights like occupational health and safety are just extensions of the right to life. Sometimes, we need to be clearer about that when we’re arguing for something and we need to be clearer about what some people argue against.

The second is the reason for this post. As unions, we are not alone in calling for workers’ fundamental human rights to be observed and implemented. Amnesty International, which most of the public probably think of as an organisation campaigning for freedom of speech and opinion, is also campaigning for us. And this year marks the 30th anniversary of their Trade Union Network, so they’ve created a blog on union rights. Bookmark it, reference it, read it.

One Response to How human rights help unions organise

  1. Shane
    Jan 25th 2009, 1:29 pm

    Thank you Owen, for spreading the word about Amnesty’s trade union blog.

    You’ve touched on some important examples of how a human rights-based approach might support the organising and bargaining objectives and campaigns of unions. A special human rights themed issue of International Union Rights Magazine (Vol 15, # 2, 2006) looked at this in some depth, and I will be blogging on this soon. In a fascinating article in that issue Lance Compa of Cornell University notes that some in the labour movement may caution that too much emphasis on a rights-based approach fosters individualism instead of collective worker power, but he concludes that it’s not a case of either-or. As evidence he points to a number of landmark US trade union cases that reference breaches of fundamental human rights – i.e. of ILO conventions – and concludes that these have actually strengthened union demands for remedies which are not available under US labour law. It’s not Amnesty’s role to intervene in the industrial ambitions of workers, but it is our responsibility to ensure that the fundamental rights of unions are respected.