Volkswagen Vote And Human Rights Compliance

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

As the Volkswagen vote draws near, the Unity Group hopes that the election will be held in strict accordance with International Labour standards. Essentially, workers and labor rights are human rights. This is affirmed in several Articles of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Rights:

(Article 1): All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

(Article 19): Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

(Article 20): (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

(Article 23): (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. (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 their interests.

(Article 25): (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Likewise, the International Labour Organization identifies Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work as: (1) freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; (2) elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor; (3) effective abolition of child labor; and (4) elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

In addition, the ILO's Fundamental Convention on Freedom of Association (No. 87, adopted in 1948) says that workers and employers alike have the right to: (1) establish and join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization; and that these organizations have the right to: draw up their own rules, elect their own representatives, and organize their programs and activities freely; not be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority; and establish and join federations and confederations, which may in turn affiliate with international organizations of workers and employers.

The ILO's Fundamental Convention on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining (No. 98, adopted in 1949) says that: (Article1): " 1. Workers shall enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination in respect of their employment; 2. Such protection shall apply more particularly in respect of acts calculated to-(a) make the employment of a worker subject to the condition that he shall not join a union or shall relinquish trade union membership; (b) cause the dismissal of or otherwise prejudice a worker by reason of union membership or because of participation in union activities outside working hours or, with the consent of the employer, within working hours; (Article 2): 1. Workers' and employers' organisations shall enjoy adequate protection against any acts of interference by each other or each other's agents or members in their establishment, functioning or administration; 2. In particular, acts which are designed to promote the establishment of workers' organisations under the domination of employers or employers' organisations, or to support workers' organisations by financial or other means, with the object of placing such organisations under the control of employers or employers' organisations, shall be deemed to constitute acts of interference within the meaning of this Article."

While far from unflappable, nevertheless, labor has played an essential role in shaping a safer, more vibrant and stable workplace for average everyday workers. From the Knights of Labor pushing for the eight hour workday in the 1860's, to the Great Railroad Strike of 1877; from the Haymarket bombing in 1886 which established May Day, to the early 1900's when Upton Sinclair's Jungle called attention to safe workplace conditions; to the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911 which called an attention to the need for occupational standards and women's rights in the workplace. From Mother Jones and the push for Child Labor laws,  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pushing for dignity and respect for sanitation workers in Memphis, a cause which he would give his life for, and Cesar Chavez pleading for the rights of poor migrant farmers, many of these rights are commonplace today because of their tireless efforts. Other issues such as the 40 hour work week, overtime compensation, profit sharing, retirement, sick and vacation days, holiday pay, grievance-arbitration, collective-bargaining, EEOC regulations, and OSHA standards are byproducts of America's workers calling for fairness in the workplace. 

The Volkswagen vote is lock and step with this very tradition. It should fully comply with International Human Rights and Electoral Standards. The workers who participate in the vote should be able to do so, free of intimidation, coercion or threat of future reprisal or retaliation. This community should be diligently monitoring for any sign that there might be human rights violations or electoral irregularities, and be prepared to alert the appropriate agencies in the unlikely event that this does occur. Afterwards, we should amicably abide by their decision, and resolve to treat all with the dignity and respect in which we all want to be afforded.

Sherman Matthews
Unity Group of Chattanooga

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