Human Rights Day events focus on workplace

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Across the country, International Human Rights Day will be commemorated with rallies and programs focusing on workplace rights. In the Twin Cities and Duluth, unions have organized rallies, while a teach-in is planned in Rochester.

Dec. 10 marks the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the basic human right of workers to form unions and bargain collectively. Adopted by the United Nations in 1948, many of the rights and freedoms it outlines – including the right to organize – are routinely violated around the world.

On Friday, Dec. 9, union members in Duluth and Minneapolis will rally for worker rights. The Duluth event, sponsored by the Central Labor Body, will start at 11 a.m. at Duluth City Hall.

In Minneapolis, workers will gather at noon at the Workers’ Rights Center, located in Bethany Lutheran Church, 2511 E. Franklin Ave. Labor and community groups, including the Twin Cities Religion and Labor Network, Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council, St. Paul Trades & Labor Assembly and the Minnesota AFL-CIO are sponsors.

On Saturday, Dec. 10, the Southeast Central Labor Council will hold a teach-in from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Heinz Center at Rochester Community Technical College, 1926 College View Road, S.E. The event will include members of the local immigrant community and workers whose rights have been violated in organizing drives.

“Not only do these things happen at Wal-Marts, these things happen to working people right here in this community,” said Labor Council President Russell Hess. “That’s the point we’re trying to make.”

On Saturday, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., the United Steelworkers Associate Member Program will be a co-sponsor of a forum on “Righting Human Wrongs: Where are our tax dollars going? And where are they needed?” The forum will be at St. Joan of Arc Church, 4537 3rd Ave. S., Minneapolis.

The panel will include Colombian labor leader Gerardo Cajamarca, currently involved in the Steelworkers’ Global Justice Campaign; Jack Nelson Pallmeyer, professor of justice and peace studies at the University of St. Thomas; Audrey Thayer, organizer and member of the White Earth Reservation; the Rev. Campo Elias, former director of the Social Ministries office in Putumayo, Colombia; and Keith Ellison, state representative for District 58B.

All of the Human Rights Day events are free and open to the public.

Around the globe, events are planned in scores of communities and countries, the national AFL-CIO said. Eleven recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and former Polish President Lech Walesa, have issued a joint statement calling upon the nations of the world to abide by the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights and fully recognize and defend workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain collectively.

The statement appeared in full-page advertisements in the New York Times, Washington Post and International Herald Tribune. It says, in part, “Protecting the right to form unions . . . is vital to promoting broadly shared economic prosperity, social justice and strong democracies.” Read the full text at www.aflcio.org/nobelpeace

Human Rights Watch, an organization that tracks human rights worldwide, has said workers’ rights are routinely violated in many nations, including the United States. Nearly all private sector employees fight workers’ efforts to form unions, according to research by Cornell University Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner. Thirty percent of employers fire workers during organizing drives.

Labor unions are urging Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act (S. 842 and H.R. 1696). The act would require employers to recognize a union after a majority of workers sign cards authorizing union representation. It also would provide for mediation and arbitration of first-contract disputes and authorize stronger penalties for violation of the law when workers seek to form a union.

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