|United Nations Association of Greater Oklahoma City
|United Nations Association of the USA
Greater Oklahoma City Chapter
P.O. Box 60856
Oklahoma City, OK 73146-0856
The Rights of Workers
To Organize and Bargain Collectively
In many ways, the UN and
the labor movement are each
a product of the same social
and historical experiences.
In some respects, they grew
Our little chapter of the UN
Association is connected to
the labor movement through
the Council of Organizations
of the UNA-USA. The
Council is a network of
more than 90 civil society
organizations who share the
common goals of promoting
greater public awareness
about global issues and the
UN's importance in world
affairs and strengthening the
Among the members of the Council are the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations
(AFL-CIO); and the American Federation of Teachers. So, if you belong to the AFT or to any union represented in
the AFL-CIO, you're already part of the UNA-USA community.
The rights of workers are important to us.
When we promote human rights -- for example, through our Human Rights Video Collection or
through our efforts to raise awareness about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- we
always recall the important role that the UN plays in the defense of worker rights.
There are two key documents that provide a solid foundation for the friendship and
solidarity that exists between the United Nations Association and organized labor.
The first is the Constitution of the International Labor Organization -- the ILO.
The ILO's history actually goes back to 1919, when the organization was created as part of the Treaty of Versailles
that ended World War I. As stated on the ILO's website, the framers of the treaty believed that "...universal and
lasting peace can be accomplished only if it is based on social justice."
"The driving forces for ILO's creation arose from security, humanitarian, political
and economic considerations. Summarizing them, the ILO Constitution's Preamble
says the High Contracting Parties were 'moved by sentiments of justice and humanity
as well as by the desire to secure the permanent peace of the world...'
"There was keen appreciation of the importance of social justice in securing peace, against a background of
exploitation of workers in the industrializing nations of that time. There was also increasing understanding of the
world's economic interdependence and the need for cooperation to obtain similarity of working conditions in
countries competing for markets."
In 1944, the ILO's Constitution was amended by the addition of the Declaration of Philadelphia -- a statement
concerning the aims and purposes of the ILO. The Declaration of Philadelphia reaffirmed the fundamental principles
of the ILO. In particular, the ILO representatives at the Philadelphia Conference famously asserted:
"(a) labour is not a commodity;
"(b) freedom of expression and of association are essential to sustained progress;
"(c) poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere...."
The reference to "freedom of expression and of association" was a strong endorsement
of the rights of workers to form unions.
In Article III of the Declaration, the ILO recognized its responsibility to promote full employment, decent standards
of living, a minimum living wage, and "the effective recognition of the right of collective bargaining."
The Philadelphia Declaration was a prelude to the ILO's decision to join the United Nations. At the end of World
War Two, the ILO voted to enter into a relationship with the UN on terms that were ultimately determined by a
negotiated agreement. The Agreement -- signed on May 30, 1946 -- made ILO the first specialized agency under
the terms of article 57 of the United Nations Charter.
For at least 65 years, therefore, the United Nations has recognized the importance of worker rights -- including the
right of collective bargaining.
A second key document that serves to bind the UN Association in solidarity with the organized labor
movement is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
Article 23 of the Universal Declaration addresses the rights of workers:
"(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to
just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against
"(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay
for equal work.
"(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable
remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy
of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
"(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests."
While the UDHR is not legally binding on any state or nation, it is an expression of common human values that are
shared widely by the people around the world. Jimmy Carter has described the UDHR as "...A beacon, a guide to
a future of personal security, political freedom, and social justice."
The Universal Declaration is the "Most Translated Document" in the world. It represents the first global expression
of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled.
If there ever was a single individual who represents the solidarity between The Worker and the United
Nations, Eleanor Roosevelt would surely be that person.
It was Eleanor Roosevelt's hard work which led to the creation of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. In addition, it
was her leadership that guided the adoption of Article 23.
According to UN documents, Mrs. Roosevelt explained that:
“The United States delegation considered that the right to form and
join trade unions was an essential element of freedom. While other
associations had long enjoyed recognition, trade unions had met with
much opposition and it was only recently that they had become an
accepted form of association. The struggle was, in fact, still continuing, and her delegation thought, therefore, that
specific mention should be made of trade unions.” (Source: George Washington University).
In the years prior to the writing of the UDHR, Mrs. Roosevelt was a recognized friend of labor. In 1941, prior to
America's entry into World War Two, she had an opportunity to speak to a local union of the International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Mrs. Roosevelt offered words to the workers that are still relevant today:
"...As I look over the past few years, the thing that gives me the most hope for the future is the fact that,
on the whole, people are standing together, people are working for the good of a group, not just for
themselves. When we learn that I think we are going to find that we can move forward faster and faster.
"I wish those of us who are employers would learn that it is through
cooperation that we achieve more – that through stating our problems
and asking people to work with us to solve them that we really get
"But that requires constant education for all of us, and I think we
ought to bring all we can into really understanding the problems that
are before the nation as a whole and as they affect our own particular
"We find ourselves at a serious moment in the history of the world. We face problems not only as citizens of the
United States; we face them as part of the entire world.
"The greatest thing we can get out of the present crisis is to develop the habit of working together and realizing that
whatever happens is going to affect us all.
"I want to leave you this morning and express my gratitude to you for having stood together to gain those things,
materially and spiritually, that will make life for your group richer and more productive.
"I hope the day will come when all the people of this country will understand that cooperation will bring us
greater happiness, and will bring us in the end a better life for the whole country and enable us to exert a
greater influence on the world as a whole."
Decent Work: A better world starts here
The primary goal of the International Labour Organization is to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain
decent and productive work,in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. This web movie provides
a three minute overview of the concept of Decent Work and is available in 25 languages.
(less than 3 minutes)
"Everyone has the right to employment and decent conditions of work."
February 26, 2011. Workers gather at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City for a Rally to
Save the American Dream. The collective bargaining rights of teachers and municipal
workers were threatened by proposals in the State Legislature. The UN has a long
history of expressing support for the rights of workers. (Photo: James M. Branum)