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International Confederation of Employers Questions Indisputable Right to Strike

Report Documenting Labor Abuses Blocked in Ploy to Curb Workers’ Rights

SOURCE: AP/Ahn Young-joon

The Seoul City Bus Labor Union is planned a strike for Friday, May 18, 2012 to demand a pay raise and better working conditions.

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The International Labor Organization’s annual meeting in Geneva, Switzerland—which brings together workers, employers, and government representatives—recently ended but not without a fair share of controversy. The Confederation of Employers—a group of business lobbies from 48 countries that make up one-third of the International Labor Organization’s tripartite governance structure—blocked the adoption of a report by the International Labor Organization’s Committee of Experts detailing violations of fundamental labor rights such as protections against child labor and freedom of association.

The employers’ contingent blocked the report over a dispute over whether workers have a right to strike. The Committee of Experts, a group of 20 renowned labor lawyers, in their annual General Survey, found that the International Labor Organization’s Convention 87—one of eight conventions that describe the core labor rights all International Labor Organization members pledge to uphold—includes a right to strike. While Convention 87 does not make the right explicit, the Committee of Experts found that a right to strike was included under the provisions protecting workers’ right to organize.

We know that the right to organize is important for creating the types of strong unions that lead to healthy and productive workforces. Unions are key players in the fight for a stronger middle class and can make important contributions to civil dialogue in transitioning democracies. Yet the employers’ group disagreed with the Committee of Experts in yet another example of businesses attacking labor and the middle class.

The right to strike is protected in numerous countries including the United States. The European Court of Justice has ruled that Convention 87 includes “the right to take collective action, including the right to strike.”

Employers certainly know that they are not about to win an argument contesting the fundamental right to strike. Their real motive is to block the International Labor Organization’s annual conference from discussing serious violations of labor rights in countries represented by the Confederation of Employers—including Colombia, Belarus, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Philippines, and Guatemala.

What the Confederation of Employers ought to be doing is taking serious action to address labor abuses and improve working conditions, creating the conditions necessary for “win-win” economic growth and development.

Jordan Bernhardt is a Special Assistant for Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress.

For more on this topic, see the June 9, 2012, Fokusspalta column by Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions, or LO, First Secretary Trine Lise Sundnes in the print edition of the Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen.

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