Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
-Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
The right to organize is a fundamental human right, recognized in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and identified as one of four fundamental principles and rights at work by the International Labour Organization. In the United States, this right is an expression of the first amendment of the Bill of Rights to freedom of speech, to assemble peacefully and to freedom to petition the Government. Workers have the right to gather together into groups and speak out to protect their rights, and to work toward passing laws that improve working conditions.
Using this right, unions have brought about substantial social change around the world. In industries and nations where unions are strong, wages are better, inequality is smaller and workers are less prone to injury and abuse. Collective bargaining ensures democratic organization in the workplace, empowers women, and even protects consumers (see our 2009 Freedom at Work Toolkit for case studies). In fact, we find that where workers have determiniation in their working conditions, child labor and modern slavery are prevented as well. Child labor, especially bonded child labor, is among the most egregious and exploitative labor practices. It emerges wherever workers have no say over their conditions or means to escape poverty. Thus, our work to protect children is closely tied to our advocacy for collective bargaining rights.
The primary purpose of organizing to collectively bargain is to ensure that employers and workers share equally in the benefits that their work produces. And the collective voice of unions provides a political counterbalance to the interests of industry, which are much more likely to influence government where union voice is weak. Thus, the attack on this right is constant. One tool unjust companies use to undermine workers’ ability to organize is the systematic replacement of permanent jobs with temporary contract jobs. Temporary workers are generally denied the right to join a union. Many workers are intentionally kept in “temporary” positions for decades. These workers rarely receive social benefits, are subject to lower wages, and often face more dangerous working conditions. While this practice is generally illegal, it persists worldwide. Read more about the Global Union Federation campaign to end precarious work.