Monday, March 24, 2008

Muggeridge on Organized Labor's International Law Project

Nrtwheader_2 Matthew Muggeridge of the National Right to Work Foundation has posted in The Federalist Society's Engage 9.1 magazine: Organized Labor's International Law Project?: Transforming Workplace Rights into Human Rights.

Here's some highlights:

For more than half a century, large U.S. labor unions, alone or in concert with other labor organization federations, have regularly filed complaints with the International Labour Organization (ILO) against the U.S. Government. This article analyzes the significance of organized labor’s forays into international law through the ILO process . . . .

We can see from this quick overview of a half-century of complaints how the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association went from a blunt dismissal of a complaint as unsubstantiated and “vague” in 1950, to requesting wholesale federal and state legislative action in 2007. Th ere is no reason to suppose that the CFA will hesitate in recommending that the “Bush Board’s decisions” be condemned as well, as a violation of international law and the commitments entered into by the United States.

What happened over these fi fty years to make U.S. labor law so unacceptable to the international labor oversight body? Evidently, over fifty complaints during the span of nearly sixty years have convinced the ILO that the U.S. is not living up toits commitments. What are those commitments? The U.S. has signed no relevant new ILO Convention in that time span. Any development of labor law since 1950 has worked to grant U.S. workers greater employment and organizing protection . . . .

To conclude, non-participation in the ILO process will not prevent international scrutiny of U.S. labor law. Moreover, as international legal machinery goes, the ILO process does
not pose as serious a threat to national sovereignty as does the International Criminal Court, for example. Nonetheless, ILO processes are a lobbying tool for organized labor and a potential embarrassment for the United States as long as it participates in them and does not comply with the CFA’s interpretations of ILO Conventions that the U.S. has not ratified. Consequently, the U.S. government might well give serious consideration to withdrawing from ILO membership, while candidly explaining its reasons for doing so.

Now, this is not a surprising commentary from someone affiliated with the National Right to Work Foundation. And I don't think any serious politician (and heck, W didn't even do it) would give "serious consideration" to withdrawing the US from ILO membership.  Shoot, we should be the ones leading the world in showing how workers' rights should be protected. Haven't we pulled out of enough international treaties yet?

But I myself have questioned in the past the importance of symbolic filings with the ILO, when money can be better used domestically for grass roots organizing and domestic political campaigns. In response to that post, Deborah Greenfield of the AFL-CIO wrote in the comments:

We understand only too well that the ILO has no enforcement authority, but that’s not the point. Unless and until the United States owns up to its serious breaches of international labor commitments, it can hardly expect other nations, which often enjoy serious trading advantages through systemic labor abuses, to do so. And, by repeatedly calling to the attention of the ILO, which remains the world’s preeminent labor agency, the U.S. government’s deepening failures to protect the rights of workers, we can mobilize international pressure on our government with respect to core labor rights.

And Lance Compa (Cornell) wrote in the comments to the same post:

International complaints are indeed a waste of time if they are not integrated into a broader strategy that can make use of them. That is one goal of the ILO complaint in the Oakwood case, to be able to put employers on the defensive as violators of international human rights standards in campaigns on the ground, especially if they file UC petitions.

A favorable ruling from the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association will boost support for trade union goals in the U.S. human rights community, an important ally in a movement for a legislative fix to Oakwood. It will also provide solid ground for enlisting European and other foreign trade union and NGO support in disuptes involving EU-based MNCs. They take the ILO very seriously.

Finally, Michael Duff (Wyoming):

I'm convinced that many workers never experience the cognitive dissonance that is created by the conflict between the two "regimes." I began my experience of that dissonance as a Philadelphia-based ramp agent as USAirways was breaking the Teamsters Union in the early 1990s. It was enough to drive me to law school. I think that anything (including the incremental gravitas of contrary world opinion generated in part by ILO decisions) resulting in an increase of that dissonance is beneficial.

So in the end, I am more persuaded that filing complaints with the ILO has some value, ILO membership has definite value, and that Muggeridge's analysis and conclusions are part of a project really not worth the candle.


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Muggeridge does a good job of showing how ILO officials have prodded the U.S. federal government to disregard our Constitution and common sense to advance their vision of employee "freedom of association."

I would add that this vision is warped. Freedom of association is commonly recognized as an individual right, but in practice the ILO has consistently opposed the freedom of the individual worker not to be represented by a union.

Hence, in one of the rulings Muggeridge describes, the ILO provided tacit support for an AFL-CIO lobbying campaign to pass a North Carolina law that would force workers who want nothing to do with a union to accept one as their "exclusive" bargaining agent -- as long as a majority of their fellow employees voted for it.

Much of the commentary on the ILO simply assumes that it favors employee freedom of association in the normal sense of the word "freedom," and focuses solely on the prudence with which the agency advances that cause. But the overwhelming majority of Americans, unlike the ILO, believe that the personal freedom not to be represented by a union deserves just as much protection as the freedom to be represented by one.

Posted by: Stan Greer | Mar 28, 2008 9:34:18 AM

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