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On Human Rights

Headstone. Lest we Forget ~ Ginger Goodwin, Shot July 26th 1918 ~ A Workers Friend : Picture Caption=They often times paid with blood.

Human rights are innate.  One doesn't have to have the brains of a rocket scientist or a doctorate in philosophy, to understand this concept.  If you have ever felt that you where unjustly treated or unfairly discriminated against, it is more than likely that these feeling arose from your gut, from an inner sense of justice, from a sense of what is fundamentally right or wrong, rather than from any knowledge of the law or understanding of human traditions.

Most of us, civilized or not, understand that it is not acceptable to wantonly torture animals, let alone fellow humans.  And ordinary folk just know, that itís not right to beat up little old ladies, or violate defenseless children, or to cause harm even to quite healthy fellow humans.

We have an innate sense that we ought to be treated fairly, and an understanding that others must therefore have similar feeling in this regard, and that a feeling of peace and security can only come from reciprocal recognition of this fact.

Now this internal sense of justice and the feeling of umbrage that arises when, as victims, our sense of justice is violated, or we feel incensed when others are victimized, this sense of right and wrong is integral to humanity and can be considered the foundation of the idea of human rights.

Now, throughout history there have been many attempts to codify human rights and some examples from modern times might be the Magna Carta, the United States Bill of Rights, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man.  Following the creation of the United Nations after the Second World War, arose what is now indisputably the most widely recognized, if only in lip service, international charter of human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

But it is worth bearing in mind that such charters are the expression of human rights and not the source.  Human rights predate all such charters and in some cases possibly predate humanity itself.  Experimental research by Sarah F. Brosnan and Frans B. M. de Waal (Nature, vol.425, 18 Sept 2003) indicate that our distant relative the capuchin monkey displays a sense of umbrage and non-co-operation when faced with inequality of treatment.  That the common ancestors of humans and old world monkeys existed perhaps as recently as about 25 million years ago, gives some idea of the possible antiquity of the foundations of human rights.

Now, the modern human rights concept that most closely relates to the experiments of Brosnan and de Waal would appear to be the idea of equal pay for equal work.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it this way...

Article 23
  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

But Canada, has failed to embody this International Law into its domestic law, thus permitting companies in Canada, to introduce unethical two-tier wage schedules that violate our human right to equal pay for equal work.

In Canada, the protection of human rights in the workplace is assigned to the individual provinces.  But rather than fulfill their duty to protect the human right of "everyone" to equal pay for equal work the provinces have done the opposite and restricted the right of equal pay for equal work to limited and specific groups.  And even those within the specific groups can have there human rights violated if it can be shown that the parameters of discrimination do not correspond to the parameters of their specific group.

For example in British Columbia:

"A person must not ... discriminate against a person regarding ... any terms or conditions of employment, ... because of the race, colour, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, or age of that person or because that person has been convicted of a criminal or summary conviction that is unrelated to the employment or to the intended employment of that person."
http://www.bchrt.bc.ca/human_rights_code/s13-25.htm

There is no "includes but is not limited to" language in this alleged human rights code, so the language, far from being inclusive, is actually limiting.

The Provinces nevertheless are proud of declaring that their Human Rights Codes include "everyone".

For example Ontario claims that:

"The Ontario Human Rights Code (the "Code") is for everyone.  It is a provincial law that gives everybody equal rights and opportunities without discrimination in specific areas such as jobs, housing and services.  The Code's goal is to prevent discrimination and harassment because of race, colour, sex, handicap and age, to name some of the sixteen grounds."
http://ohrc.on.ca/english/code/index.shtml

But when it comes to the equal pay for equal work for everyone that is guaranteed by the UDHR, this kind of provincial human rights code actually protects no-one, because the unethical employer has only to dream up a reason for discrimination that is not based upon the sixteen specified grounds, and such reasons are theoretically infinite in supply.

In contrast the UDHR is an open-ended and forward-looking document.  For instance, Article Two says that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration, "without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.".  By adding the phrase, "or other status," the UDHRís framers recognized that with time other kinds of discrimination might be possible, and they worked to anticipate this.

It would be very easy for government to create a fair and workable "equal pay for equal work" law.  All they would have to do is legislate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) into domestic law.

I believe that the real problem is that they have neither the will nor the desire to do so.

In order to understand the lack of will, I believe it is important to understand that the political powers are elected by money that is controlled by the wealthy owning class, business, the major shareholders and the executive bosses.

Now it's also true that the people elect the politicians, but as surely as the consumer generally buys those products that are the most heavily advertised and promoted, the voters will elect the most heavily advertised and promoted candidates.  And that takes money, the kind of money that the working class do not have because the wealth that their labour creates is stolen from them on a daily basis and placed into the hands of leaches who just happen to already have a ton of money in the bank.  They will also tend to vote for the candidates that the media tells them about, but the media is also a business, so there tends to be a situation where the ruling class and the owning business class have interests in common.

You may also have noticed that many, in fact most elected politicians, are also businessmen or wealthy shareholders, and if they do not fit into this category they will usually be business flunkies, lawyers and so forth.  So they are not representative of the common people even from a demographic point of view.  Politicians will tell you that they are motivated by a strong desire to serve their country, but what will not be mentioned is that it is also handy for business to have access to the economic levers that are in the hands of government.

The boss has an interest in keeping the working class subdivided into various groups that will compete against each other, thus defeating working class interests, and since those in power have interests in common with the boss, rather than the worker, it follows that the politicians will either promote economic discrimination or else permit it through a do-nothing attitude.

History clearly shows that when the boss wanted chattel slavery, politicians enabled the same.  It was not until after a great deal of effort from activists that politicians, fearing a loss of popularity, jumped on the bandwagon and conceded a reversal in the trend.

But after the abolition of slavery it still remained ok to discriminate on the basis of race, and again politicians permitted this to be possible, until once again the efforts of activists to rally popular support against racism compelled politicians to reluctantly get on board.

But then it remained possible to discriminate on the basis of sex and so on and so forth.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights promised to put an end to this evil yet lucrative cycle of discrimination, but politicians choose to continue the cycle of discrimination by a process of thumb twiddling and obfuscation that has prevented the implementation of the UDHR for what is now sixty years.

The UDHR declares that "everyone" is entitled to equal pay for equal work.  But this is obviously just too radical for a bossís toady of a politician to implement into law, so it's just not implemented.  However, the politician needs to appear to be doing something progressive, even if he is not, in order to give his friends in the media an opportunity to write something nice about himself.

And so we have legislation like the human rights codes that outlaws forms of discrimination that have already largely outlived their usefulness to business. The difference between the UDHR and typical provincial human rights code is that the UDHR attempts to outlaw discrimination proactively, where provincial human rights code typically addresses discrimination reactively, giving business an opportunity to exploit new discriminatory methods that are permitted to continue until demonstration and protest make them impracticable.

This is clearly because while provincial human rights legislation prevents discrimination between specific groups, they do not prevent economic discrimination generally.  So employers are free to invent fresh new ways of implementing the age-old principal of (divide and conquer) discrimination.  Whatever the ostensible posture of business to discrimination is, the actual practice is to replace prohibited methods with new forms of discrimination that fall below the radar of limited national and provincial human rights code.

So now we have the popular two-tier system of discrimination, and if the cycle continues, it too will one day be discredited, only to be replaced by some other form of economic discrimination designed to drive down the price of wages and keep the working class in their place.  But for now, it is doing a wonderful job of screwing the working class, so for now it is ok and legal.

If we look at the last two centuries of labour history we will read of the brave and heroic union workers that fought not only for better wages and working conditions but also for the recognition of civil and human rights, the right to organize and the right to free speech, the right to safe working conditions and the right to health care, to name just a few.

They struck and fought hard and often times paid with blood for benefits that workers now take for granted, things like paid vacation time, lunch and tea breaks and a forty hour week with premium pay for overtime.  Those worker often made huge personal sacrifices for the cause of labour, not just for there own immediate benefit, but rather, so that there sons and daughters, the workers of the future would have hope of a better and more secure world to come.  They fought for the benefits that workers enjoy today, the same benefits that employers and governments are now rapaciously clawing back.

Now compare that heroism with the cowardice that often passes for unionism today!

When elected union representatives stoop to negotiate away, the international human rights of future workers by conspiring with the employer to accept unequal pay for equal work, then that is cowardice!

When the majority of the rank and file collectively vote to ratify this theft of human rights from a relatively defenseless minority of workers, that is cowardice!

And when these same representatives and workers do the same thing to yet unhired future workers who are entirely defenseless, that is also cowardice!

When workers, who benefit today, from the traditional working class struggles of those heroes who have gone to the grave in hope of a better world for the workers of the future.  When workers today thwart the efforts of heroes past and screw the workers of the future for what they think is their own immediate short term gain, then that is cowardice of the grossest and most cowardly kind!

Even amongst many well meaning and otherwise militant unionists there seems to be a kind of myopia.  In focusing on specific problems (and racism and sexism for example are problems), we have lost sight of the general problem and that problem is deliberate inequity in the treatment of workers and citizens overall in a society that is founded on greed and inequality.

The involvement of unions in negotiating two-tier contracts where workers doing the same work are getting very different wage scales or benefits brings to mind the Duty of Fair Representation.  Is it not patently obvious, that for anyone to claim that they are representing workers in an equal and even handed manner, whilst at the same time negotiating a two tier wage deal, that they are necessarily either delusional or engaged in deception?

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Itís time for a change fellow worker, it's time for organized workers to recognize the futility of collaborating with the boss in the delusional belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.  It's time to promote the general welfare of all workers and to abolish scurrilous two-tier wage schemes from the bargaining table.  And where lower tier workers find themselves victims of the intransigent unethical attitudes of the majority it may be prudent to carefully organize amongst themselves, to study minority union strategies and to at least speak with a unified voice.



In Solidarity,
John Barker

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July 2007