Thursday, March 24, 2011

Workers' Rights: a global issue

By Frank James, NPR website, March 23, 2011
For those in Maine with doubts about how their state's Gov. Paul LePage would answer the old organized labor song, "Which side are you on?" they now have their answer.
LePage, a Republican who just started in his first term, ordered the removal from Maine's Labor Department building a mural depicting scenes of organized labor history in his state.
He's also renaming the building's conference rooms so they no longer honor Cesar Chavez and other famous leaders of the American labor movement.
This piece of "ethnic cleansing" of the walls of the Labour Department, a place for the celebration of the many fights to bring about some measure of fairness in working conditions (the 8-hour work day, and the weekend off, for example) if ever there was one, demonstrates the kind of mind-set that is galloping across the U.S.
It reminds one of the memo sent by then Premier Mike Harris of Ontario, early in his administration, to the curriculum designer(s) at Queens University, who were designed history couses for grades nine and ten, to remove all positive references of the contributions of the Labour movement, women and aboriginal people from the curriculum.
Conservative approaches to many things can rile the passions but this one, and the kind of symbolic gesture by the current, neophyte Republican governor in Maine, can certainly demonstrate profound disrespect for the hundreds of men and women courageous enough to confront despicable working conditions, unfair wages and a failure to participate in providing pensions and other health benefits that have given rise to the middle class in America.
One has to wonder if there are similar courageous leaders among the workers in America who will come forward to protect the interests of workers, against the propaganda onslaught, with deep pockets of Koch cash, that seeks to emasculate the labour movement and render it a relic of history, suitable only for the museums, but not for the legitimate protection of workers.
And this issue is not circumscribed by the continental borders. It has global implications. Every country where workers are being mistreated, underpaid, under-supported with health care, and environmental protection and pension benefits will need to find those courageous enough to bring a halt to the workplace unless and until the management actually comes to the legitimate conclusion that their workers are their most valuable resource, and cannot and must not be treated just like another piece of equipment or anothe piece of raw material in the production process.
In a period of severe budget restrictions, there will have to be limits imposed on all labour contracts, but to eliminate the protection of workers from the workplace can and will only lead to cutting corners in other phases of the business operation, given the low priority that is placed on the human side of the enterprise.

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