Today is ‘Blog Action Day’. Once a year thousands of bloggers around the world come together to bring awareness to one common theme in their own special way. This year the Blog Action Day is focused on ‘human rights’. Below is my post for this year’s event.
Labor Rights Are Human Rights
Everyone should have the right to work in a safe place. Safety in the workplace is one of the biggest issues facing workers around the world. There are too many examples of workers being hurt or killed on the job. Unsafe working conditions are just one of the reasons workers have always turned to unions.
In the early days of the industrial revolution corporations were only focused on one thing, profits. Many of these jobs were in the factories and mills, producing textiles. They would pack hundreds people in rooms with little to no space to move. These workers, mostly women and children, would be forced to work for 16 hours a day.
The perfect example of this was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. March 25th of 1911 started like any other day for hundreds of women at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. Over 500 workers piled in to work early in the morning and began their 16-hour day.
Around 4pm a fire broke out on the sixth floor of the Asch building. The seventh floor was the main manufacturing floor where the majority of the workers were located. The sixth floor was used to store rolls of fabric. It did not take long for the entire sixth floor to be engulfed in flames.
To protect themselves from theft the mill owners decided to lock all the exits on the manufacturing floor. This prevented the workers from being able to escape the rapidly growing fire. To escape the fire, workers jumped from seventh floor windows. Many of them knew they would probably not survive the fall, but they knew they would never survive the fire.
When the fire was finally put out, 146 people lost their lives in this devastating fire.
After the fire, workers in other textile mills joined together with union organizers to fight for better safety regulations. These regulations mandated maximum room occupancy, fire extinguishers, and escape plans.
Many people know the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. In the United States it became a driving force for labor rights and workplace safety for decades. Unfortunately the United States cannot regulate other companies.
In November of 2012 over 100 workers lost their lives in a textile factory in Bangladesh. The fire was eerily similar to the Triangle fire. Workers were trapped inside with no way to escape. Fire inspectors actually found that none of the emergency exits opened to the outside.
Once again we see that corporations are more interested in profits than worker’s safety. It begs the question, what is a human’s life worth?
This is where labor and human rights merge. Labor has always put workers safety above all else. Thanks to labor we now have regulations and an entire government agency (OSHA) devoted to protecting workers.
We have much more to do. Organizations like Global Labor and Human Rights Organization are focused protecting human rights through strong labor rights.
“As workers across the developing world fight for their right to work in dignity, in healthy and safe workplaces, to earn a living wage and to organize independent unions, the Institute will provide solidarity and international visibility to support their efforts, and we will continue to demand that corporations be held legally accountable to respect core internationally recognized worker rights standards.”
—From the Global Labor and Human Rights
Workers rights are human rights. Stronger organized labor will lead to higher regard for human rights in the workplace.