But independent unions are not allowed, and those workers are all members of the state-sponsored All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), which panelists said functions more like a government agency and includes board members and other representatives of employers among its leadership. "It's all top-down," said Hao.
Exploitative and dangerous working conditions, wage theft, child labor and other abuses in China have received much attention in the past decade, especially regarding the millions of farmers who have streamed to cities for migrant work, where they don't have the same rights or access to social services as local residents.
The four Chinese professors and analysts on the Left Forum panel cited the rash of suicides at factories including Foxconn and murders and attacks by frustrated workers - including a farmer-turned-migrant worker who killed three people after being denied his wages in 2000; and the 18-year-old migrant worker Wang Binyu, who in 2005 killed four people "because he got only 1/100 of his salary and was abused by his boss," in the words of Gao Xinjun, a senior researcher at the China Center for Comparative Politics and Economics.
But the panelists said a growing labor shortage has given workers more power and slowly increased protections of workers' rights, as the labor situation has switched from "a seller's market to a buyer's market," - with workers being the "buyers" of jobs-as Xinjun said.
Xinjun said the military has been unable to even get enough soldiers because they are competing with the labor needs of private enterprise.
"The labor pool is much smaller because of the one child policy...so policies are coming up requiring better protections for women and children, [and] quality employment" is becoming more common, said Quinwen Xu, chair of the Graduate School of Social Work at Boston College.
But workers protections on paper and in reality are a different thing. Guo "Sunny" Zhengyang described the high numbers of fatalities in coal mines, despite the fact that the government does have regulations on coal mines.
She noted that Shanxi province in 2009 moved to nationalize and consolidate most mines, reducing the number of private mines more than ten-fold, from more than 2,000 to less than 200.
Coal mines are among the places migrant workers labor after fleeing the countryside in droves in search of economic survival. Zhengyang said these jobs are relatively well-paying, with more dangerous jobs paying more, and salaries "guaranteed" since coal has been in high demand to fuel electricity generation needed for China's booming industry.
"Although it's dangerous, the migrant workers still want to do this job," she said.
Zhengyang said that private coal companies rarely have contracts with migrant workers, which is how both parties usually prefer it. At state-owned mines workers do have contracts, "but a contract is just a piece of paper."
She noted that private companies don't formally provide any benefits or social welfare programs for workers, and from the government these workers get much less social welfare than full-time residents. She said safety conditions in state-run mines have improved markedly, but conditions are still very dangerous in private mines.
"And the mental and cultural life of migrant workers is ignored by both private and state-run enterprises," she said. The development of migrant coal workers organizations and more government regulation of private mines would go a long way in improving workers' lives. "But that's easy to say and much harder to do."
Labor law violations are rampant across the country, the presenters said, including involving unpaid wages, overtime violations, abuse and other charges.
Hao summed up the primary labor complaints:
Employers closed factories and disappeared without paying workers, factory owners delayed paying workers for one to 14 months - that happens very often...laid-off workers from state factories felt shortchanged by the terms of leaving a factory where they had worked their whole life.
Even though independent unions are illegal, there is some space for regional centers and other quasi-independent institutions that can help protect workers rights. Xinjun said that since its founding in 2000, the Yiwu Center for Workers Legal Rights-Defending (the name sometimes described differently depending on the translation) had a 93 percent success rate in litigating, arbitrating and otherwise dealing with more than 4,700 labor complaints. He said labor complaints have also gone down exponentially in that time period, he thinks because the organization has preemptively protected rights and helped prevent labor abuses.
The presenters said there is still rampant corruption and lack of transparency within the government, including in the ACFTU and state-owned enterprises.
"If you want to get a document, they'll say ‘Why do you want that? You don't need that,'" said Xinjun.
Hao called for greater activity by "critical intellectuals" in Chinese labor reform. He described an overall hopeful view of recent labor and economic trends, highlighting a recent news photo of business suit-clad bosses bowing as a line of blue-collar workers marched into their factory.
Globalization makes labor and capital more moveable, but capital has more advantage to move more freely. The interest of the workers in developed countries to protect their work may not coincide with the interests of workers in developing countries (where companies are off-shoring their production). But globalization also makes the world more integrated -- so international trade unions can recommend labor standards, mobilize civil society...and theoretically as wages increase (in China), maybe some factories would go back to the U.S.
Hao asked for more support and collaboration from U.S. labor unions, including aid in reforming the ACFTU even though there aren't independent unions. He said:
Rather than focusing on one country's interests, why don't we focus on the interests of humanity?
In These Times, Mon Mar 21 2011
Byline: Kari Lydersen
In it's decision, the ILO called on the Wall government to (amongst other things):
- Hold full and specific consultations with unions at an early stage of considering any labour legislation...
- Take the necessary measures in consultations with unions to amend the Public Service Essential Services Act and Regulations...
- Consult with unions to ensure that a process is put into place to ensure that all social partners have confidence restored in the Labour Relations Board (LRB)...
To date, the government has complied with none of the recommendations and it's inaction continues to sully Saskatchewan's reputation on the international stage.
Recently, the government responded to a number of written questions about the ILO's recommendations which were tabled by the NDP opposition in the spring session. A summary of those questions and responses is reproduced below:
Question 1648: Has the Premier read the International Labour Organization decision?
Response: The Premier and cabinet have been briefed by the Minister responsible for Labour on the ILO Recommendations.
Question 1649: Has the Government of Saskatchewan been contacted by the federal government regarding the ILO decision and the request for the Government of Saskatchewan to report on its progress torwards implementing the recommendation?
Response: The Government of Saskatchewan will respond to the International Labour Organization through the Government of Canada in due course.
Question 1650: Has the Government of Saskatchewan informed the federal government of its intention to comply with the ILO decision?
Response: The Government of Saskatchewan is considering the non-binding recommendations of the International Labour Organization and will prepare a response in due course.
Question 1651: Will the Government of Saskatchewan comply with the ILO decision?
Response: The Government of Saskatchewan will reply to the non-binding recommendations of the International Labour Organization in due course.
Question 1652: Has the Government of Saskatchewan contacted the ILO to inform them of the government's intentions regarding the ILO decision?
Response: No. The Government of Saskatchewan will reply to the non-binding recommendations of the International Labour Organization through the Government of Canada in due course.
Question 1653: Has the Government of Saskatchewan contacted the union complainants to invite them to work with the government in complying with the ILO?
Question 1654: (1) Has the Premier given instructions to the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General to comply with the ILO decision? (2) If so, when? (3) If not, why not?Response: (1) No. (2) N/A. (3) The Government of Saskatchewan remains confident that the various challenges now before the Labour Relations Board and the Courts will result in decisions that will confirm the Government has acted in a lawful manner.
Question 1655: What is your advice to this Legislative Assembly on whether we are going to be complying with the rule of law and international law as decided by the United Nations' ILO governing body?
Response: The Government of Saskatchewan is considering the non-binding recommendations of the International Labour Organization and will prepare a response in due course.
Would the Sask. Party government be ignoring a decision of a NAFTA panel, or the WTO if Saskatchewan was found guilty of violating an international trade agreement? I doubt it. So why the double standard when it comes to our international obligations respecting worker rights and human rights?
Larry Hubich's Blog, Mon Mar 21 2011
Republicans in Wisconsin are seeking to reverse civic traditions that for more than a century have been among the most celebrated achievements not just of their state, but of their own party as well.
Wisconsin was at the forefront of the progressive reform movement in the early 20th century, when the policies of Gov. Robert M. La Follette prompted a fellow Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, to call the state a "laboratory of democracy." The state pioneered many social reforms: It was the first to introduce workers' compensation, in 1911; unemployment insurance, in 1932; and public employee bargaining, in 1959.
University of Wisconsin professors helped design Social Security and were responsible for founding the union that eventually became the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Wisconsin reformers were equally active in promoting workplace safety, and often led the nation in natural resource conservation and environmental protection.
But while Americans are aware of this progressive tradition, they probably don't know that many of the innovations on behalf of working people were at least as much the work of Republicans as of Democrats.
Although Wisconsin has a Democratic reputation these days - it backed the party's presidential candidates in 2000, 2004 and 2008 - the state was dominated by Republicans for a full century after the Civil War. The Democratic Party was so ineffective that Wisconsin politics were largely conducted as debates between the progressive and conservative wings of the Republican Party.
When the Wisconsin Democratic Party finally revived itself in the 1950s, it did so in a context where members of both parties were unusually open to bipartisan policy approaches. Many of the new Democrats had in fact been progressive Republicans just a few years earlier, having left the party in revulsion against the reactionary politics of their own senator, Joseph R. McCarthy, and in sympathy with postwar liberalizing forces like the growing civil rights movement.
The demonizing of government at all levels that has become such a reflexive impulse for conservatives in the early 21st century would have mystified most elected officials in Wisconsin just a few decades ago.
When Gov. Gaylord A. Nelson, a Democrat, sought to extend collective bargaining rights to municipal workers in 1959, he did so in partnership with a Legislature in which one house was controlled by the Republicans. Both sides believed the normalization of labor-management relations would increase efficiency and avoid crippling strikes like those of the Milwaukee garbage collectors during the 1950s. Later, in 1967, when collective bargaining was extended to state workers for the same reasons, the reform was promoted by a Republican governor, Warren P. Knowles, with a Republican Legislature.
The policies that the current governor, Scott Walker, has sought to overturn, in other words, are legacies of his own party.
But Mr. Walker's assault on collective bargaining rights breaks with Wisconsin history in two much deeper ways as well. Among the state's proudest traditions is a passion for transparent government that often strikes outsiders as extreme. Its open meetings law, open records law and public comment procedures are among the strongest in the nation. Indeed, the basis for the restraining order blocking the collective bargaining law is that Republicans may have violated open meetings rules in passing it. The legislation they have enacted turns out to be radical not just in its content, but in its blunt ends-justify-the-means disregard for openness and transparency.
This in turn points to what is perhaps Mr. Walker's greatest break from the political traditions of his state. Wisconsinites have long believed that common problems deserve common solutions, and that when something needs fixing, we should roll up our sleeves and work together - no matter what our politics - to achieve the common good.
Mr. Walker's conduct has provoked a level of divisiveness and bitter partisan hostility the likes of which have not been seen in this state since at least the Vietnam War. Many citizens are furious at their governor and his party, not only because of profound policy differences, but because these particular Republicans have exercised power in abusively nontransparent ways that represent such a radical break from the state's tradition of open government.
Perhaps that is why - as a centrist and a lifelong independent - I have found myself returning over the past few weeks to the question posed by the lawyer Joseph N. Welch during the hearings that finally helped bring down another Wisconsin Republican, Joe McCarthy, in 1954: "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
Scott Walker is not Joe McCarthy. Their political convictions and the two moments in history are quite different. But there is something about the style of the two men - their aggressiveness, their self-certainty, their seeming indifference to contrary views - that may help explain the extreme partisan reactions they triggered. McCarthy helped create the modern Democratic Party in Wisconsin by infuriating progressive Republicans, imagining that he could build a national platform by cultivating an image as a sternly uncompromising leader willing to attack anyone who stood in his way. Mr. Walker appears to be provoking some of the same ire from adversaries and from advocates of good government by acting with a similar contempt for those who disagree with him.
The turmoil in Wisconsin is not only about bargaining rights or the pension payments of public employees. It is about transparency and openness. It is about neighborliness, decency and mutual respect. Joe McCarthy forgot these lessons of good government, and so, I fear, has Mr. Walker. Wisconsin's citizens have not.
New York Times, Mon Mar 21 2011
Byline: William Cronon
Attorney general appeals restraining order on labor law: Van Hollen asks appeals court to lift judge's temporary order
The Court of Appeals panel in Madison quickly responded Monday by asking for information from the prosecutor on the other side of the case by the end of Tuesday, but didn't explicitly say it would take the appeal.
Justice Department lawyers argued that Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi's ruling was an overreach against the Legislature as a separate branch of government. "In the interests of the administration of justice, it is necessary - nay, it is imperative - that this court step forward and undo this inappropriate action," the request reads.
Last week, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne asked Sumi to block the law because he said the legislative conference committee that voted on the measure violated the state's open meetings law by failing to provide adequate public notice. The conference committee voted for the bill earlier this month, allowing the Legislature to pass it amid raucous demonstrations and Walker to sign it into law.
On Friday, Sumi issued a temporary restraining order blocking Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the budget-repair law until she can rule on the merits of the case. The law, which repeals nearly all collective bargaining for public workers in the state, can't become effective until one day after it is published.
Before Sumi's action, La Follette had been planning to publish the measure in the official state newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal, on March 25, the date required by law. La Follette, a Democrat and an opponent of the law, says he can't remember being ordered to not publish a law in some three decades in office.
Hearings on the injunction before Sumi are scheduled for March 29 and April 1.
Technically, Monday's filing by Van Hollen is asking for permission to appeal the restraining order, since the case in Dane County is continuing and the appeals court doesn't have to take up any appeal until the case is finished.
The case is before Court of Appeals Judges Paul Higginbotham, Paul Lundsten and Brian Blanchard. Blanchard served as the Democratic district attorney in Dane County before Ozanne.
The order from the judges Monday gave Ozanne until 4 p.m. Tuesday to provide part of his response to the state and until 4 p.m. Wednesday to provide the rest.
Ozanne didn't return messages seeking comment on the appeal.
In its appeal Monday, the state made several main arguments. First, the state argued that the court has no jurisdiction over GOP legislative leaders being sued or over La Follette because they all enjoy legal immunity.
The state constitution gives legislators immunity from lawsuits during the legislative session. La Follette, the state said, can't be the subject of a legal action because he wasn't involved in the committee vote in question.
Hold called interference
Second, the state argued that the court can't block a bill that hasn't yet been published into law because that amounts to interfering with the Legislature in its area of responsibility of passing laws. The appeal cited a 1943 Supreme Court decision that it said forbids courts to block a legislative measure from being published.
The order from the appeals court directed Ozanne to respond to this specific argument from the state by Tuesday.
Last, the state argues that the courts can't block or strike down a law passed by the Legislature purely on the basis of lawmakers failing to follow legislative rules or the open meetings law. Citing a 1983 state Supreme Court ruling, the appeal said that courts can strike down laws only if lawmakers failed to follow the state constitution.
Howard Schweber, a professor of political science and legal studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, agreed that laws can't be struck down because the Legislature didn't follow its rules in passing them. But Schweber noted that Sumi hadn't struck down the law, only restrained a state official from publishing it.
"They're trying to make this an argument about the authority to strike down a law. But that's not what's going on here," he said.
Likely to go to high court
Schweber said he assumed the case would end up before the Supreme Court. In its appeal, the Department of Justice had asked the appeals court to send the case to the Supreme Court if it doesn't take the case.
Robert Dreps is an attorney who handles open meetings and open records cases for media organizations including the Journal Sentinel. He noted that even if the law stands, the court might still have the authority to seek a financial penalty for lawmakers who violated the open meetings law.
Ozanne is seeking a $300 fine plus court costs and attorney's fees from the four GOP legislative leaders on the committee. They are: Senate President Mike Ellis of Neenah, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon and Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder of Abbotsford. The Fitzgeralds are brothers.
In temporarily blocking the law from being published, Sumi said Friday she believed that Ozanne was likely to succeed in his action. But she also said the Legislature would be free to pass the law again with adequate public notice.
Sumi said Friday that the importance of enforcing the open meetings law outweighed the interest, at least for now, of sustaining the collective bargaining law.
Dispute over notice needed
Wisconsin's open meetings law requires 24 hours' public notice of meetings, or two hours in emergencies. Ozanne on Friday argued that the emergency standard did not apply and that even if it did, the meeting didn't follow the law because the conference committee met with less than two hours' notice.
Assistant Attorney General Maria Lazar said Friday that a notice for the meeting was posted on a bulletin board about two hours in advance and that there was no way to know exactly when it was posted.
In its appeal Monday, the state also argued that there was an exception in the open meetings law for legislative rules. GOP lawmakers say that their legislative rules didn't require the same advance notice and that they followed those rules.
Ozanne also argued that the meeting violated the law because the public had difficulty getting into the Capitol amid tight security and because it was held in a small room that could not accommodate the large crowd trying to get in. Sumi on Friday took note of that, pointing out the state constitution requires the doors of the Legislature to be open when lawmakers are in session.
The Republican lawmakers have said there was adequate public access to the meeting.
The budget-repair measure was meant to shore up the state's finances through June 30 but drew widespread opposition because of the collective bargaining changes. It stalled when Senate Democrats left the state Feb. 17 to block action on the measure. The state constitution requires 20 of 33 senators to be present to vote on bills with certain fiscal elements, and Republicans hold just 19 seats.
After three weeks, Republicans quickly convened a conference committee March 9 to strip appropriations out of the bill. They said the changes to the bill meant they no longer needed 20 senators to be present.
The four Republicans on the conference committee voted for the bill as they ignored shouts by the lone Democrat at the meeting, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha, that they were violating the open meetings law. The Senate passed it minutes later with no Democrats present as protesters jammed the halls of the Capitol.
JS online, Mon Mar 21 2011
Byline: Jason Stein and Lee Bergquist
The union has called on the government of Bahrain to take "more active responsibility in protecting the people of Bahrain" regardless of their national status. However, the government has chosen to repress all forms of political democracy in Bahrain by using tanks and live ammunition to conduct a violent crackdown against peaceful demonstrators at Pearl roundabout.
In addition, it appears that the government is now blaming pro-democracy activists for the killing of migrant workers much to the amazement of trade unionists. Thus, there have been calls by trade unionists for an impartial investigation to these murders.
BWI Connect, Mon Mar 21 2011
The March 2011 online edition of the Green Labor Journal spotlights the report, which was released last month on the two-year anniversary of the Recovery Act. Click here to read the full report.
The online journal also reports on the struggles of working people in Wisconsin to fight back against Gov. Scott Walker's anti-worker agenda.
The journal also spotlights two important speeches from the 2011 Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference last month in Washington, D.C. In one, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker said workers and environmentalists are committed to making sure the new jobs in our economy are good and green jobs.
Good jobs that provide the wages and benefits needed to sustain families and enable them to buy the products we will be making. Good jobs that can put our economy back in working order. Good jobs that afford workers the opportunity to choose for themselves whether to join a union to have a strong voice on the job for quality American-made products and services.
The other featured speaker, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson, cited a 2010 study from the Institute of Clean Air Companies that estimated some 200,000 air pollution control jobs had been created because of the Clean Air Interstate Rule, which regulates pollution that crosses state lines. The bottom line, Jackson said, is that we can protect the health of millions of American families and do so in a way that will benefit the economy.
afl-cio news blog.ca, Fri Mar 18 2011
Byline: James Parks
What is happening in Wisconsin and other states will shape the future of the middle class in the nation and the basic structure of workplace protections for working people, particularly for Latinos and all minorities.
We can no longer take these protections for granted. The minimum wage, paid sick leave, Social Security, Medicare and child labor laws are among the protections and benefits that workers in the labor movement helped secure for millions of Americans. The 40-hour workweek (as opposed to 60, 70 or 80 hours) did not materialize from one day to the next; it was the subject of a hard-fought battle spearheaded by the labor movement for more than a century. This arduous fight--led by hundreds of thousands of union activists who marched, fasted, lost their jobs and even, in some cases, their lives-- won workers the now-standard eight-hour day.
We must defend these rights. Collective bargaining gives workers a way to negotiate with employers for higher wages, job security, and safer working conditions. The hallmarks of the American middle class--raised wages, retirement funds and paid vacation time--weren't gifts from corporations to their workers. They were the result of collective bargaining. Yes, collective bargaining, the same right that the Wisconsin Republicans, at the bidding of the billionaire Koch brothers, just yanked away from public workers despite massive and unprecedented public protests.
These measures target teachers' aides, nursing assistants in public hospitals, road repair workers, sanitation workers and others who already labor in tough and low paying jobs. Gov. Walker and his cronies have stripped even these vulnerable workers of their basic right to negotiate for higher wages and better benefits.
Losing Wisconsin could mean losing the first line of defense that workers have when facing abuses. And those who will suffer the most are the workers who are already the most vulnerable in the nation: minorities.
For the Latino community this must be an issue of grave concern. Latinos face the highest rate of death on the job, and they have the lowest levels of pension coverage and health insurance. Many Latinos in low-wage jobs have their wages stolen from them by their employers more than any other group.
On the other hand, Latinos stand to benefit enormously from joining unions. Latino union workers earn almost 51 percent more (in median weekly earnings) than their nonunion counterparts. They also have better health insurance and pension plans. Other workers of color also achieve similar gains the moment they join a union.
Wisconsin isn't the only state where this struggle for bargaining rights is happening. Other states, including Ohio and Indiana, confront similar assaults that would limit the basic rights of public workers.
According to polls, a majority of Americans support these workers. That's because most people, whatever their experience with a particular union may have been, understand that unions are central to having a healthy middle class. A recent report by the Center for American Progress demonstrates a correlation between the financial share of the nation's income going to the middle class and the number of workers in unions. As our middle class erodes, the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans widens.
These recent attacks on organized labor are not new, but they are escalating as a result of unions' weakened position. For several decades, there has been a decline in union membership among all demographic groups. Corporate lobbyists have succeeded in changing the way labor laws are applied and administered (To whose advantage? You get one guess). Current federal legislation gives employers the upper hand in using tactics (both legal and illegal) to prevent workers from organizing.
The share of workers represented by unions was relatively stable in the 1970s, but since the 1980s it has fallen rapidly. This decline has caused wages to stagnate and the quality of work to take a nosedive for all workers. Now, there is less pressure on non-union employers to raise wages and agree to better working conditions. Today, the richest 1 percent owns 34 percent of the country's wealth. While the entire bottom 90 percent of Americans own a mere 29 percent of the nation's wealth. To put this into perspective, if we examine the combined net worth of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans in 2007 and that of the poorest 50% of American households, we find that they are almost the same, $1.5 trillion for the former and $1.6 trillion for the latter. In 2009, the number of people in poverty was the highest it has been in more than half a century since poverty estimates were made available in 1959. This situation is shameful and we must fight back against measures that only exacerbate the problem.
Labor unions strengthen the economy, our tax base and help build the middle class by helping workers secure higher incomes, critical benefits and workplace protections. Unions give workers a fighting chance in an unequal economy and collective bargaining strengthens America's democratic process. The quality of life of everyone who earns a paycheck is at stake. If the courts back Walker and we lose Wisconsin, the next questions the Koch brothers could raise is: why do these workers have weekends when they could be working? Oh, and their children too.
Huffington Post, Fri Mar 18 2011
Byline: Hector E. Sanchez
States including Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee have proposed bills severely limiting the collective bargaining rights of trade union members. A similar bill was passed in Wisconsin on Friday.
"State governors must withdraw support for these measures which, if adopted, would violate international law," said Shane Enright, Amnesty International's trade union adviser.
â??The US has an obligation to uphold the rights of American workers - including the specific right to organize and bargain collectively."
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed a bill on Friday that undermines the ability of unions in the public sector to protect workers. The legislation also takes away nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public employees, limiting their negotiation rights only to wages.
As well as restricting collective bargaining rights, union activists say legislators in as many as 37 states have introduced hundreds of anti-union bills. Some affect negotiation of healthcare benefits, restrict freedom of association, place caps on the minimum wage and deprive workers of the right to strike.
Similar measures being promoted in Congress would affect federal public employees.
"The Wisconsin bill is symbolic of a wider attack on unions in the USA, where workers and are facing an onslaught from the authorities," said Shane Enright.
"Many employees are already struggling because of the economic crisis and these laws will undermine fundamental human rights and labour rights protections, which are sorely needed to ensure that employees do not bear the brunt of the crisis. It will also jeopardize the delivery of vital public services that these employees deliver."
â??This is also a struggle for migrant workers' rights, for education and health rights, for wage security, for workplace health and safety. We are seeing communities insisting on social justice, economic rights and personal liberties against powerful vested interests. Fundamental human rights are at stake, and we stand in solidarity with the US labour movement in this struggle.â??
Under international law, all workers have a human right to organize and to bargain collectively.
These rights are an essential foundation to the realisation of other rights, and are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, as well as conventions adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
As a state party to the ICCPR and a signatory to the ICESCR, the USA has an obligation to respect the human rights under these instruments and treaties.
As a member of the ILO, the USA also has a commitment, through the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, to respect, promote and realize the fundamental rights set out in the organization's core conventions.
Moves to limit such rights in the USA are also at odds with commitments made under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) as well as numerous subsequent trade agreements negotiated and ratified over the last 15 years.
Amnesty International, Mar 17 2011
Many Canadian university executives have embraced the image of an enterprise university, characterized by corporate-style executive leadership. There is a growing consensus among higher education administrators and corporate executives about the role and nature of public universities as market actors best run by market ideas.
This transformation that has, in part, led to the growth of privatization on campuses, which is the first step toward the changes Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has just pushed through in Madison, Wisconsin.
Governor Walker's agenda shows what the future could be if we aren't successful in pushing back on corporatization and privatization on our campuses and communities.
Context for cuts to post-secondary education
Canadian universities have been facing cuts for some time.
Ironically it is the big four audit and consultancy firms that have helped define the crisis and that are now advising universities on how to get out of the crisis. Several universities and colleges across Canada have begun implementing resource optimization-a review process designed by these firms to cut costs of administrative and academic support services and to encourage privatization.
The world's corporations are using the economic meltdown to veil their attacks on the public sector, including post-secondary education. They, along with conservative think tanks and big audit and consultancy firms, have sown the seeds for the attack on public services and public sector unions.
Students and teaching assistant unions at the heart of protest
With dramatic cuts and efforts to privatize post-secondary education, it is no wonder 800 university students marched out of their classes in opposition to Governor Walker's budget.
They understood so clearly the catastrophic implications of the budget and the need for immediate action. They also understood so plainly their common cause they shared with the public sector workers including those on campus.
The University of Wisconsin System (UW) would lose $250 million in state funding under Walker's proposed budget, with half of the cuts absorbed by UW-Madison and half by the other campuses. The UW is one of the largest systems of public higher education in the United States, serving almost 182,000 students each year and employing more than 32,000 faculty and staff statewide. Part of the budget plan is to separate Madison campus from the rest of the UW System.
The restructuring that the bill calls for, like removing the Madison campus from the UW System, studying a similar move for the Milwaukee campus, and moving all of the universities to more of a market model is de facto privatization. Some other the other impacts of the bill on post-secondary education include:
- Phasing-out a scholarship program aimed at low-income and first-generational students
- Eliminating in-state tuition rates for undocumented persons at UW-Madison
- Authorizing all four-year campuses to create a charter school
With the groundwork for similar cuts already in place in Canada, thanks to the steady increase in corporate involvement on university campuses, students and union members on Canadian campuses should take note. These attacks on post-secondary education have serious implications for the quality, affordability and accessibility of our system. It's becoming increasingly important to fight against privatization on our campuses.
Though the situation in Wisconsin may be troubling to many, the protests also point the way to incredible potential for powerful alliances between students, community activists, union members and their unions. The power of all these groups working together to fight privatization and corporatization is pivotal to the fight for quality and accessible public services.
For more on the situation in Madison:
Check out CUPE's previous articles on privatization on university campuses:
cupe.ca, Thurs Mar 17 2011
The speakers were even different from the regular rallies. These were not everyday labor leaders that you see at every rally. The speakers were everyday "working men and women" who were public employees that would be affected by the tier system, deduction in paychecks to cover retirement options, and the decrease in prescription drugs. As we listened to the speakers, one tune that sounded familiar from the crowd that night was, "Keep the Promise". Every five minutes the crowd would chant "Keep the Promise" because even though public employees have taken a decrease in their paychecks for the last three years, the State of Maryland is asking them to take another one this year to subsidize the 2% for their pensions. They are also mandating retirees pay more for their prescription drugs. They are instituting a tier system for the young workers. This is when you have to ask the question, "When is enough, enough?"
The night ended with the AFL-CIO President letting the crowd know that this cannot happen anymore. The battles will be fought and the American Labor Movement will persevere. I must say that this was a truly inspirational night from the moderator Anthony McCarthy, the fifteen thousand people, the seventy-five busses, the workers telling their stories, the silencing of the Tea Party, to hearing our fearless leader President Trumka. I must say that it was a proud day to be a part of the American Labor Movement. As the Howard County teacher stated "We are in a story of David and Goliath. You better believe that labor is "David" and today is the day that we strike back with our rock."
The Pragmatic Progressive Forum, Wed Mar 16 2011