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Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?  In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.  Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works.  Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.  Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.  Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.
- - Eleanor Roosevelt

Human Rights for All

Eleanor Roosevelt and the UDHR

I recently wrote to the head office of my employer, Molson Coors, to inform them of the human rights abuse that is an ongoing problem at their brewery in Vancouver, British Columbia, in particular, with regard to violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 23(2), which takes place under the guise of a two-tier pay and benefit system.

The resulting correspondence made it clear to me, that some individuals, who should know better, are under the misguided impression that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights exists only for the enjoyment and protection of certain classes of individuals, namely (in the words of the correspondent) those "who throughout history, have been vulnerable to discrimination based on immutable personal characteristics such as sex, religion, political belief, etc".

Now, I must admit that I'm of the opinion that religion and politics are not essentially immutable, and with today’s surgical technology one could possibly argue that neither is sex.  But that is beside the point.

The UDHR itself is quite clear, that the rights it speaks of belong to and protect everyone.  In fact the word 'everyone' appears in this easy to understand document no less than 30 times.  So when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says...

"Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work".

... It really does means that everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

Now it follows, that if equal pay for equal work is an entitlement, then denial of this entitlement, is nothing less than theft.  And for a labour union to agree to such theft is nothing less than aiding and abetting a crime.

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So how did we arrive at this situation in North America, where companies are operating under union contracts that permit millions of dollars to be stolen off the employees who generate the very wealth of the companies they work for, while the unions themselves not only turn a blind eye, but are also complicit in negotiating the contracts that allow such abuse?

I believe the answer can be largely summed up in one word  'ignorance'  and in some cases it is clearly a willing ignorance.  Following the adoption of the UDHR in 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations called for the Declaration to be read and expounded in schools and other educational institutions.

I received a state education between the ages of five and fifteen years, and now nearly forty five years later, even though I have many clear memories of my schooldays, I am quite certain that no mention was ever made of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights during those ten years of intensive education.  I had to wonder if my experience was unusual, so one day I asked about twenty people at random if they recalled learning about the UDHR at school, nobody had, and many had not even heard of the document.  All of the people I was asking were adults, so I had to wonder if, in these more enlightened days, thing were any different.  I asked the same question of a couple of my grandchildren, but I got the same negative responses.

But now, for you, there is no longer any excuse for ignorance, for as surely as you are connected to this site via the web you also have access to the UDHR.  Go to it, send a copy to your printer, if you have access to one, and peruse this very readable and easy to understand document at your leisure.  Then reflect on it and try to recall if you have experienced any violations of it in your day to day life.  Perhaps you are a victim of two-tierism or perhaps your rights are being violated in some other way.  Start thinking about what you can do about it, to help yourself and to help others in similar situations, make some rough plans, be flexible, but get with it.  Here's the link (click here), start today.

In Solidarity,
John Barker


Some sources used in this article:

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Dec 2005