Labor’s New Opening to International Human Rights Standards

TitleLabor’s New Opening to International Human Rights Standards
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsCompa, L.
JournalWorkingUSA: The Journal of Labor and Society
Pagination99 - 123
Keywordshuman rights, labor law, labor movement, trade unions, worker rights

Most trade unionists were oblivious to international human rights movement in the last half of the twentieth century. For their part, human rights advocates did not include workers’ rights on their agenda. But in the late 1990s, labor and human rights advocates came together to reframe workers’ collective action as a human rights mission rather than a self-interested syndical action. A new labor–human rights alliance built a wide-ranging discourse of workers’ rights as human rights. The expertise and knowledge attributable to human rights actors gave their critique of workers’ rights violations in the U.S. a high measure of authoritativeness compared with trade unionists making the same claims. Critics suggest that a human rights frame moves away from a class analysis, de-emphasizing principles of industrial democracy and mass action in favor of individual rights. This article argues that a human rights argument can help win needed labor law reform to protect workers’ rights.