Yesterday the United States and Canada celebrated Labor Day. It is meant to be a day set aside to honor the contributions workers in both countries make to their economies and societies. In the United States, it was President Grover Cleveland who designated the first Monday in September as Labor Day in part to distance the federal holiday from the more “radical” overtones of May Day – which is still observed in many parts of the world as the day to honor laborers.
To remind myself, that Labor Day is in fact more than an opportunity to stock up on any number of “back to school” items (a frequent marketing rallying call over this three-day weekend), I went back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to see what it says about labor rights.
The UDHR specifically enshrines the right to work in Article 23, with “just and favorable conditions…, without any discrimination…, the right to equal pay for equal work” and the right to join a union for the protection of the worker’s interests.
Here are some examples from Brazil, South Africa and the U.S. about the state of workers’ rights. And while the videos are disheartening in that they share stories of exploitation, modern day slavery and even violence, in each instance, the voices of these individuals come through with strength and dignity, and communities are coming together to support them.
Find out more about labor rights around the world in the resources below each video. And please share links and stories of your own in the comments section.
From a video report that was part of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. in 2010, a migrant worker shares the conditions of working long hours of backbreaking labor with low pay in the country’s fields:
Here is a list of resources on the U.S. Human Rights Network website related to immigrant and migrant rights. Human Rights Watch also released a report last week which highlighted the specific challenges migrant children, who also frequently work in the fields, face especially with respect to education.
In Brazil it is estimated that more than 25,000 workers are enslaved by landowners in rural Brazil, mostly in the Amazon region:
This May, Bloomberg News and others reported that lawmakers in Brazil “approved a constitutional amendment … that strengthens punishments for landowners and others who force people into slave-like working conditions, in which thousands of Brazilians are trapped.”
And featured on our Human Rights Channel, this playlist details the events at the Lonmin Mine in Markiana where “Thirty-four miners were killed on Thursday, August 16, when South African police forces opened fire on striking miners near the Lonmin platinum mine. The armed miners, who were demanding higher wages, had refused police orders to disperse after almost of week of already deadly striking”:
Politicians and activists have condemned the violence and encouraged the miners to continue to peacefully demand improvements in their wages, and to have other grievances addressed as evidenced in this video of former ANC youth leader Julius Malema speaking with miners.
Follow the Human Rights Channel for more on this developing story in South Africa. And again, please share resources or stories on labor rights below in the comments section. You can also share examples of videos on labor rights on Twitter with us using the #video4change hashtag.