34 Lab. Stud. J. 5 (2009)

handle is hein.journals/labstuj34 and id is 1 raw text is: 



Guest   Editorial                                                ar   tdeJonl
                                                                     Marich 2009 5-7
                                                                     C) 2009) UALE
                                                             10.11 177/O060449X08328948
W   orkers' Rights as                                            l1tpi/Jsagepu.com
                                                                          hosted at
Human         Rights                                           hp_  iiceuo

Legal Debate and Impact on Workers




T   he framing of workers' rights as human rights has become popular among union
    leaders and labor academics. The idea of collective bargaining as a fundamental
human  right that is on a par with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and other
rights all human beings are presumed to have is very appealing to those who have
participated in the struggle to improve the conditions of workers around the globe.
This idea is grounded in ILO conventions. But a tension exists between the strategy
of using the human rights argument to promote workers' interests and other strate-
gies for improving conditions faced by workers today. Promoting workers' rights as
human  rights is a high-level legal strategy involving both national and international
bodies. It is a strategy that many believe will help workers in the long run. But what
does it do to promote economic justice in the short run, when workers are fired for
trying to form a union, paid less than their agreed-upon wages, or perhaps not even
paid at all? What role does the long-term legal strategy play in the overall movement
to promote economic justice?
   This issue features four articles that address some of the tensions surrounding
workers' rights as human rights. The articles are the best of those presented on this
topic at the UALE conference in April 2008. Two of the four papers focus on the legal
and policy aspects of the workers'-rights-as-human-rights approach and the strategic
implications for unions. Both papers are somewhat cautious about this approach.
   Many  labor educators are familiar with the decision by the Supreme Court of
Canada  that the collective bargaining process is protected by the Charter of Rights
and Freedoms  (BC Health Services, 2007), making collective bargaining the equiv-
alent of, in U.S. terms, a constitutional right. Labor unions hailed this ruling as a sig-
nificant victory. In his article, Savage puts this victory in context and discusses the
role of ILO standards in domestic Canadian decisions. He also raises questions about
union strategy and the workers' rights approach overall. He argues, in part, that the
reliance on a judicial strategy tends to de-mobilize the working class. In that strat-
egy, the key roles are played by attorneys and judges rather than by union leaders
and members. The risk is that workers will disengage from the struggle. Savage sug-
gests that workers' rights flow from workers' political power, rather than the reverse.
He expresses concern that while Canadian unions are currently enjoying more suc-
cess with a legal strategy that they have in the past, the reliance on a legal strategy


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