Republicans Admit: Labor Rights in U.S. The Worst

Today, the House will likely pass the Employee Free Choice Act. I'm not here to discuss EFCA. But, what is interesting is this amazing acknowledgment from Republicans on Capitol Hill that labor rights in the U.S. cannot stand scrutiny when held up to the light of international standards. Check this out.

In today's Wall Street Journal, there is a piece describing on-going negotiations between the Administration and Democrats to try to resolve differences on pending so-called "free trade" deals. As I wrote recently, the Columbia so-called "free trade" deal is being held up because of labor rights problems, as are other deals.

But, the passage in the story, which is stuck near the end (which, I guess argues that you should always read from the back to the front) that is truly revealing is this:

A problem that especially worries Republicans and the administration is how to ensure new labor commitments don't unintentionally rebound at home, where American businesses already have high workplace standards under U.S. law. Some officials fret about the limits imposed by U.S. law on the ability of government workers to organize and worry that putting ILO principles in a bilateral trade deal might lead to legal actions over whether the U.S. itself fully complies with the basic international rights.

Right. Republicans and Administration officials worry that forcing our country to abide by rules set forth by the International Labor Organization would expose what is obvious: workers in this country do not have basic rights. (Btw, I won't quibble right now with the assertion that American businesses have to adhere to "high workplace standards under U.S. law"--that's a very mixed and questionable assertion and, certainly, the main point there is that while STANDARDS might be high in some cases, ENFORCEMENT and PENALTIES are weak beyond belief)

To be specific, in 1949, the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, found:

Article 1

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.

In the U.S., 20,000 workers every year lose their jobs when they try to form a union. The real issue in union organizing is not so much whether you have a "secret ballot election" or "card check" (one of the basic debates in EFCA), it's employer neutrality. What we need is to make sure employers stand down, and that they are prohibited from utilizing fear and intimidation when workers are given the chance to choose whether they want to have a union or not.

But, going back to the trade deals: my point, which I have made many times here, is that labor provisions tacked on to so-called "free trade" deals are irrelevant or, at best, weak because these deals have a fundamental flaw--they treat labor rights, environmental protection and other social issues as after-thoughts, issues that are secondary to the fundamental purpose of so-called "free trade" deals--the protection of capital and investment (notice I use the word "protection"...ah, for a proponent of so-called "Free trade" to be labeled a "protectionist" must be the biggest insult). And, as I wrote in the Columbia trade deal diary, I don't believe Democrats should be making deals for these so-called "free trade" agreements--they should be blocking the deals, period, and completely reframing the discussion on trade.

But here's the main point: The labor protections being discussed for these deals are aimed at preventing the worse abuses: slave labor, child labor, forced overtime, work performed in unsafe conditions and the attacks against union member.

And, yet, Republicans fear that adhering to those basic ILO standards would put employers in the U.S. at risk of running afoul of those very provisions. They do run afoul of those international provisions now but they generally are not held to account in a court of law. Once they are put into these so-called "free trade" deals, though, the door will be opened to legal challenges here.

Doesn't the Republican fear speak volumes about our labor rights here?