Workers Rights  - Human Rights

Every person who associates with a trade union and acts collectively to improve workers’ lives is a human rights defender.

However, human rights laws generally fail to recognise the issues that concern trade unionists.  Where human rights laws exist they tend to cover civil liberties rather than social and economic rights, so it falls to trade unionists to fight for working people’s wellbeing.

     Blacklisted builders protest outside of the High Court.

     Blacklisted builders protest outside of the High Court.

In addition, human rights laws tend to cover individual liberties rather than the collective rights of workers’ organisations, and the trade union movement faces dangerous politically-motivated opposition from laws, state institutions and corporations as a result.

The last decade alone has seen the Marikana massacre in South Africa, the Zhanaozen massacre in Khazakstan and the Hacienda Luisita massacre in the Philippines – all of which were incidents of mass killing carried out by the state in order to protect private companies’ interests.

In addition, the countless number of trade union leaders murdered, threatened and ‘disappeared’ in Colombia is a tragic testament to the country’s reputation as ‘the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist’.  While Colombia holds that regrettable record there are many other countries where workers’ representatives face similar politically-motivated dangers.

In countries such as Iran and Fiji independent trade unions are banned.  In Bangladesh and Cambodia, in Swaziland and South Korea, the physical threats against trade unionists – from states and non-state actors alike – mean that trade union activism is a struggle that takes remarkable courage.

Workers’ organisations are oppressed in the USA and much of the EU, where peacefully picketing trade unionists are often arrested and meaningful collective bargaining is next to impossible.  Discrimination is rife, and varies from hiring ‘union-busting’ consultants to the pernicious practice of blacklisting.

Trade unionists expose themselves to extraordinary personal risks to defend the human rights that states overlook: decent work, wages and standards of living, health, education and self-betterment.  Defending trade unionists, through supporting the movement and practical solidarity, is vital to ensure that workers can effectively resist and overcome the threats that capitalism poses to human rights.