Bargaining Rights Are Human Rights
by Greg Tarpinian
March 7, 2011
In the focus on the fight to preserve collective bargaining
rights for public employees in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and
elsewhere, the mass media has ignored the international and
human rights significance of these battles.
Under international labor law, the right to collectively
bargain is considered a fundamental human right. Legislation
or executive action to eliminate collective bargaining
rights is, therefore, a violation of international law.
Under the Universal Declaration of Human rights (adopted in
1948 by the United Nations), to which the United States is a
signatory, the right to bargain collectively is subsumed
under the rights to freedom of association and the right to
organize into a trade union (Articles 20 and 23). Since the
Declaration has been signed and ratified by the United
States it is therefore binding on state governments through
the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution (Article VI, clause
The right to organize and bargain collectively is explicitly
covered under International Labor Organization Convention 98
adopted in 1949. While the United States has not
specifically ratified ILO Convention 98, it is bound by that
Convention by virtue of its membership in the ILO, as these
rights are part of the ILO charter and, therefore, stand
above the individual Conventions.
A 2007 decision by the ILO sustained a complaint filed by
the United Electrical Workers against the State of North
Carolina for its prohibition on collective bargaining for
public employees. The ILO called on the United States to
"promote the establishment of a collective bargaining
framework in the public sector in North Carolina," and
called specifically for the repeal of North Carolina General
Statute 95-98, the state law that prohibits public employee
collective bargaining. Currently pending before the ILO is a
complaint filed by Transport Workers Local 100 challenging
New York State's "Taylor Law," which prohibits strikes by
public sector employees.
Finally, as a result of many years of advocacy on the part
of human rights and labor groups, the "violation of
internationally recognized labor rights" is now typically
included as a prohibition in trade agreements that the
United States enters into with other nations.
So while anti-labor forces in the United States have
chastised Democrats in the Wisconsin Senate for leaving the
state as an anti-democratic move, in truth these Senators
are serving as the last line of defense of internationally
recognized human rights and, therefore, of democracy.
Recent polls indicate that a clear majority of the American
people support collective bargaining rights -- not because
they belong to unions, which most do not, but because it is
a simple issue of fairness and democracy.
It was not too long ago that both Republicans and Democrats
used the lack of bargaining rights in the former Soviet
Union as clear evidence of totalitarianism. What does it say
about today's Republican Governors that they are making the
elimination of collective bargaining their signature issue?
I would like to thank Dominick Tuminaro, Esq., for his
assistance in preparing this article.
[Greg Tarpinian is the President of The Tarpinian Group,
which provides unions with customized strategic and
communications options for a wide variety of International
labor unions. Prior to the formation of the Tarpinian Group
in 2009, he was the founding Executive Director of the
Change to Win labor federation. For the 25 years prior to
that he was the Executive Director of the Labor Research
Association, and President of LRA Consulting.
His articles have appeared in major newspapers from the Wall
Street Journal to the Los Angeles Times. He is quoted as an
expert source in newspapers from Barron's to the New York
Times. He is also a frequent guest on labor and economics
issues for a wide variety of American network news programs
including the CBS Evening News, CNBC, CNN, the NBC's Today
Show and many others.]
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