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4 Ways Workers Are Boldly -- and Successfully -- Fighting for Their Human Rights

A wave of new energy and bravery in recent labor actions is building momentum for a solid labor reform agenda.

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On December 6, President Obama issued a statement opposing the Michigan right-to-work legislation.  “President Obama has long opposed so-called ‘right to work’ laws and he continues to oppose them now,” said the White House spokesperson.  He voiced support for good wages and good benefits and gave workers in the US automobile industry as “a prime example of how unions have helped build a strong middle class and a strong American economy.”

The events of the past few months offer the President and his Secretary of Labor a strong platform on which to initiate a solid labor reform agenda that will help to not only stop the decline of the labor movement and with it workers wages and working conditions, but much like the 1930s begin to rebuild the legal structure to strengthen workers voices.  Included on the agenda are removing barriers to joining unions, encouraging alternative types of labor organizations, and enforcing significant penalties on employers who violate the labor laws. Legislation, executive orders, technical assistance, and law suits are all avenues to be explored.

Critical to success will be rallying public opinion, using old and new media, and reaching out in strong coalitions to civic, social justice, and religious communities.  We all have a role to play.

In this era of globalization labor, as well as business, operates in the world-wide context.  We can rebuild a high quality manufacturing base at home, while also helping low-wage workers in this country and in the rest of the world. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides the framework.  As Eleanor Roosevelt told the delegates to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Convention in 1944, the United States needs to take a “world view,” giving people all over the world “hope for better economic conditions.

Brigid O’Farrell’s most recent book is She Was One of Us:  Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker.  With Betty Freidan she edited Beyond Gender: The New Politics of Work and Family. See