Just came from a great event that served as a reminder of why it’s so important to observe Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, which marks the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.
Here at the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., author and historian Brigid O’Farrell discussed her new book, “She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker.” Introducing O’Farrell to the packed crowd, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler said, “Eleanor worked tirelessly to ensure all people enjoy” basic workplace rights. In fact, Roosevelt was the mover behind adoption of the Declaration of Human Rights, and—less known—labor worked with her to push hard for passage of Article 23, which states in part that:
Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions….
O’Farrell described how consistently Roosevelt championed workers’ rights and the freedom to form unions, and how tirelessly she put into action her fundamental belief that workers’ rights are basic human rights. A Newspaper Guild member, Roosevelt was a prolific writer—penning 27 books, and more than 8,000 newspaper columns. She used her national forums to bring to light issues key to workers. In later decades, she was often vilified for her strong support of labor and civil rights, with newspapers canceling her columns and FBI agents guarding her because of threats she received as she traveled the country to speak.
Violence against those advocating workers’ rights isn’t just an historical artifact. Some 101 trade unionists were murdered last year, a dramatic 30 percent increase over the previous year, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights.
Even frail health and advancing years didn’t stop her drive to reach out to working people. At age 74, an ailing Roosevelt agreed to co-chair the National Council for Industrial Peace, founded in 1958 to defeat the extension of so-called right to work for less laws to six more states. She declared it was time:
for all right-thinking citizens, from all walks of life, to join in protecting the nation’s economy and the working man’s union security from the predatory and misleading campaigns now being waged by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.
Roosevelt, of course, could be speaking today.
AFL-CIO Organizing Director Elizabeth Bunn also spoke at the book event and noted that many workers today are not waiting for labor law reform to gain rights at the workplace, but are taking action on their own. Domestic workers, day laborers, taxi cab drivers all are self-0rganizing as highlighted in a new report out today by the Excluded Workers Congress.
Which brings us back to International Human Rights Day and why reminding ourselves of Eleanor Roosevelt’s passion and commitment to advancing workers’ rights is so important.
In short, because she never gave up. And neither can we.