Forum Sponsored by the Labor and Working-Class History Association/Organization of American Historians.
Hosted by the AFL-CIO Washington, D.C. April 21, 2006
Rights, Democracy, and the Framing of Organized Labor’s Vision: Looking Back and Moving Forward
Joseph A. McCartin, Georgetown University
One Saturday last December, the scene on 16th Street outside of this building was stirring. Just months after the split between the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win unions, labor activists converged here to lift their voices in unison on International Human Rights Day. Streets here and elsewhere around the country were filled with union members and allies making a vital point: the right to organize, a fundamental human right, has been undermined in the United States. The latest in a series of protests that have turned International Human Rights Day into a day of labor protest in this country, the December actions indicated how widespread the violation of workers’ right to organize was in the United States. Some recent studies have suggested that in 30 percent of organizing drives employers fire pro-union workers, and in nearly half of all campaigns companies threatened to close up shop or relocate if workers choose a union. These figures explain why U.S. private-sector union density has dropped to levels lower than we have seen since the dawn of the 20th century, even though more than half of workers surveyed say they would join a union if they had the chance. As AFL-CIO President John Sweeney put it, a worker’s right to organize is a "fundamental freedom that has been eroded beyond recognition."1