As we come down to the home stretch to the
election, we can be pretty sure that the "right to
organize" will not be one of the burning issues. After
all, most Republicans are flat-out opposed to the right to
organize a union. And as for Democrats, it’s a shrinking
number who bring up the controversial issue without first
being coaxed — or threatened — by various unions. Let’s
be honest: if Al Gore had been talking to the Pittsburgh
Chamber of Commerce or any other group of bosses instead of a
union rally, would he have mentioned the right to organize?
Think about that one for a minute.
Brothers and sisters, our movement is in a
jam. Let’s face up to it. In the midst of an unprecedented
economic expansion, the labor movement has barely managed to
hold its own in actual numbers, and we continue to decline as
a percentage of the total workforce. If we can’t organize
and bring vast numbers of working people into our ranks today,
when will we?
The primary reason that vast numbers of
working people don’t join unions is because they are
prevented by the furious and often illegal resistance waged
against them by employers. Period. It’s a simple and
profitable corporate formula. Poll after poll conducted by the
AFL-CIO shows that most working people would join a union if
they had the freedom to do so. But they lack the freedom to do
so. Our weak labor laws, combined with poor enforcement and a
lack of political will to tackle the problem, all add up to a
disaster for working people.
Don’t take my word for it. Browse to and
download a report dated August 2000
entitled "Unfair Advantage: Workers’ Freedom of
Association in the United States Under International Human
Rights Standards." Or call 212-290-4700 and order it. It’ll
cost you a few bucks, but it’s worth it.
If you ever had any doubts about the labor
rights disaster here in the U.S., this 217-page report will
clear them up for you once and for all. It is published by
Human Rights Watch, the noted international watchdog group.
The author is Lance Compa, longtime labor activist and
recognized international labor and human rights attorney.
A fast review of this ground-breaking report
is akin to a tour through the wreckage and ruins of our basic
human rights. It’s scrupulously researched and painstakingly
detailed. South Florida nursing home workers are spied on,
harassed, and fired for trying to join the Union of
Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE!). Hotel
workers in San Francisco trying to join the Hotel Workers
(HERE) are thwarted with nearly 20 years of illegal conduct by
their employer. Pork processing workers in North Carolina
withstand a six-year avalanche of company attacks for trying
to join the United Food and Commercial Workers. Die-casting
workers in Illinois win a union election, withstand a barrage
of illegal company conduct, but still find no justice after 12
years trying to join the United Electrical Workers (UE).
'YOUR BLOOD WILL
After exposing these stories of illegal
corporate conduct, Compa draws some stiff conclusions: For
one, "firing workers for organizing is illegal but
commonplace in the United States." He goes on to point
out a litany of failures of U.S. labor law, with appropriate
If you take time to read this report by Lance
Compa and Human Rights Watch, your blood will boil. You will
want to do something about it. Here’s a suggestion or two.
First, download or order a copy and send it to the leadership
of your union. Send it to your member of the U.S. Congress.
And most of all, one of you needs to send it to Al Gore,
because he has it all wrong. The right to organize doesn’t
need to be protected, it needs to be restored. And we have a
right to ask him exactly how and when his administration will
ACT to restore this right. If Gore ends up in the White House,
it’ll be because working people voted to put him there. The
least he can do in return is ACT.
Get the report. Read it. Circulate it. And ask
someone to join the Labor Party while you are waiting for Al
Gore to get busy restoring our basic human rights. Chances are
that you’ll have time to recruit quite a few while waiting
Chris Townsend is political action director
of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of