Strengthening International Labor Rights as Human Rights

Posted by Barbara Shailor
September 5, 2011
Crowd of Commuters Wait for Train to New York

Families across the United States are gathering together today to celebrate Labor Day -- a time honored tradition that we've set aside for over a century -- and remember the contributions of workers. The cookouts, parades, and end of summer rituals are unique ways that we celebrate this very American holiday. But the recognition of working people -- be it in May or September -- through a holiday and tradition devoted to no particular gender, individual, battle, group, or saint is also unique. It is a holiday we all share.

It has only been six months since the world witnessed the remarkable transformations taking place in the Middle East. The self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, who was concerned about not being able to feed his family, has resonated with workers everywhere. Workers, in countries as different from one another as one could imagine, are speaking up for decent wages, social justice and a political and economic voice in their daily lives. Clearly, dignity at work is a universal aspiration.

And as the financial crisis of the last three years has shown, the stability of global economy still poses enormous challenges. An economic crisis in one country can be felt on factory floors half a world away. Much of the world is still experiencing continuing high employment, lack of jobs for young people, discrimination towards women and growing disenfranchisement among migrant workers and refugees.

As workers take advantage of greater political space and start to speak up for better wages, equality, job stability, and the right to form their own independent organizations -- our labor office at the State Department will support the "voice of the street" and work to strengthen respect for labor rights as human rights in our policies and programs.

Secretary Clinton captured this focus perfectly in her speech on development in the 21st century, in which she said:

"...We cannot build a stable, global economy when hundreds of millions of workers and families find themselves on the wrong side of globalization, cut off from markets and out of reach of modern technologies… And we cannot advance democracy and human rights when hunger and poverty threaten to undermine the good governance and rule of law needed to make those rights real."

This is why our efforts to promote labor diplomacy are focused on ensuring that the global economy is working for everyone. This includes advocating for dignity at work and recognizing that honest labor, fairly compensated, gives meaning and structure to people's lives and enables every family and all children to rise as far as their talents will take them.

Honoring our values -- working to end to discrimination, an end to forced and child labor, and recognizing the right of people to organize and bargain in a civil and peaceful way. These are not just labor rights, they are human rights.

Today, to each and every one of you and to your families on Labor Day, I wish you the best as we work towards a more prosperous and peaceful world.

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