IAM leader: Workers rights at heart of human rights
EVERETT – Workers’ rights are at the heart of basic human rights, one of the top officers of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers said.
“The right to collectively bargain is a human right,” declared Gary Allen, who is the general vice president for the Machinists Union’s Western Territories. “The right to stand together, to protect ourselves and our loved ones against an inadequate and degrading lifestyle.”
Allen was one of the keynote speakers at the Snohomish County Human Rights Commission’s observance of International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. More than 100 human rights activists from around Puget Sound attended, including some 40 members of Machinists Union District Lodge 751 and Machinists Union District Lodge 160.
The event marked the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly approved a global declaration of human rights. The declaration came in response to the genocide and humanitarian disasters of World War II – and the global recession that preceded the war — and was written in large part by Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and the U.S. delegate to the UN in those years.
Article 23 of the declaration spells out the rights of workers around the world:
- Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment;
- Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work;
- Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable pay, ensuring for themselves and their family an “existence worthy of human dignity;” and
- Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions.
“That language is pretty clear,” Allen said. “And it’s pretty clear that it is being ignored, even in the U.S.”
Allen criticized free trade agreements like NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) for provisions that block the Declaration of Human Rights from being enforced.
That’s wrong, Allen said.
“No business or financial transaction is bigger than the protection of human life,” he said. “We cannot allow such atrocities as forced labor, child labor, any form of discrimination and unsafe working conditions to stand unchallenged.”
Allen said Congress needs to do more to end wage discrimination against women, who on average earn only 78 percent of what men are paid for the same work. And he blasted the Republicans in the U.S. Senate, who in December blocked ratification of a United Nations treaty on the rights of disabled people – even though it was based on the Americans With Disabilities Act and wouldn’t have changed American law.
Allen said the Machinists Union is doing its part to improve protection of human rights, in part by taking a lead role in the development of Council FIRE, a group to represent the interests of Native Americans within the labor movement.
Native Americans were “first on this soil, but last in the American Dream,” he said.
IAM Grand Lodge Rep Kevin Cummings, who is based in Seattle, is one of the leaders of the effort to address that wrong, Allen said.“Labor has always stood at the forefront of issues like this, and we will not rest until this initiative is fully realized,” he said.
Allen spoke out against recent efforts to limit voting rights, particularly among minorities. “There are those who still believe that voting is a privilege for those of a select class, and not the right of every U.S. citizen.”
And he praised Washington’s voters for legalizing same-sex marriage, and extending that basic human right to gay and lesbian couples. “It is my hope that your example will be followed by other states,” Allen said.
Allen said he’s encouraged by things like the vote for same-sex marriage, and the re-election of President Obama. Ordinary people are “standing up and standing together,” he said.
“We have to take this nation in the direction we want it to go,” Allen said. “Nobody is going to do it for us.”
Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at the Boeing Co., District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents more than 33,000 working men and women at 48 employers across Washington, Oregon and California. District 751 is part of the IAM’s Western Territories, which is the largest and most-diverse geographical unit within the union.