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As Labor Struggles, Have the Big Rights and Liberties Groups Like the ACLU Deserted Unions?

While labor is under powerful battering from conservatives, a strong case can be made that they aren't being supported by some of our most prominent human rights groups.

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In Peck’s history, Human Rights Watch stands out as a force for rank neoliberalism, a major player in the extermination-by-omission of labor rights and economic equality rights from the language of human rights. How this happened sheds at least a bit more light on how the left abandoned labor.

Aryeh Neier, founder of Human Rights Watch and its executive director for 12 years, doesn’t hide his contempt for the idea of economic equality as one of the key human rights. Neier is so opposed to the idea of economic equality that he even equates the very idea of economic equality and justice with oppression—economic rights to him are a violation of human rights, rather than essential human rights, thereby completely inverting traditional left thinking. Here’s what Neier wrote in his memoir,  Taking Liberties: “The concept of economic and social rights is profoundly undemocratic… Authoritarian power is probably a prerequisite for giving meaning to economic and social rights.”

Neier here is aping free-market libertarian mandarins like Friedrich von Hayek, or Hayek’s libertarian forefathers like William Graham Sumner, the robber baron mandarin and notorious laissez-faire Social Darwinist.  As with Neier, William Graham Sumner argued that liberty has an inverse relationship to economic equality; according to Sumner, the more economic equality, the less liberty; whereas the greater the inequality in a society, the more liberty its individuals enjoy. It’s the fundamental equation underlying all libertarian ideology and politics—a robber baron’s ideology at heart.

Neier goes further, explicitly rejecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because nine of its 30 articles focus on economic rights as human rights. Neier objects to that, singling out for censure “such economic issues as a right to work; to social security; and to an adequate standard of living.” The human rights article on “a right to work” that Neier dismisses as “authoritarian” is Article 23, and it reads:

“Article 23 (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

It’s interesting that Neier rejects Article 23, the article on labor, which he mislabels as “a right to work”, because back in the 1970s, when Neier was executive director of the ACLU, he supported big business’s “Right To Work” anti-labor laws, against the rest of the left and the ACLU, which at the time still supported labor rights as civil rights. The so-called “Right To Work” laws are grossly misnamed—they’re really laws designed to bust unions by making it even more difficult for them to organize worker power against the overwhelming power of the corporation. It was corporate PR flaks hired to deceive and conceal the real purpose of those laws who came up with the false name “Right To Work” laws. Fred Koch, father of Charles and David Koch and one of the founders of the John Birch Society, got his start in rightwing politics as a leader of the “Right To Work” movement in Kansas in the mid-1950s.

Less than twenty years after Fred Koch fought to destroy labor rights through “Right To Work” laws, the executive director of the ACLU, Aryeh Neier—the same Aryeh Neier who later led Human Rights Watch— colluded with William Buckley to push the ACLU rightward against labor by getting the ACLU to represent big business and “Right To Work” laws, under the guise of “protecting free speech”—the same bullshit pretense always used by lawyers and advocates to help big business crush labor and democracy. This “free speech” pretense is the basis on which the ACLU currently supports the Citizens United decision, which effectively legalized the transformation of America into an oligarchy.

 
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