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Capitol Hill Shop Steward

Labor Rights
We'll Hold
You to That ....

As featured in
Labor Party Press

"…the right to organize must always be protected."

—Al Gore, speaking to the
Labor Day crowd in Pittsburgh, PA,
 September 4, 2000

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).


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 remedies.

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 for Al.

Chris Townsend is political action director of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE).

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