Part 4: Labor exploitation & the repression of workers’ rights (Human Rights in the United States: 2023 Report)

Source: Alliance for Global Justice


As the force that keeps society moving, the organized labor movement in the United States has been targeted in every way since its inception. Today, the movement is small (comprising just 10% of the total workforce), it’s frayed, and has faced insurmountable pushback from corporations. There are many reasons why unions have struggled to stay afloat. Organizing workers doesn’t come naturally or easily within the confines of our repressive political apparatus. However, things are changing. As extreme economic inequality continues to multiply, so has the recognition among working people that unions, and union organizing, provide a safety net and protection from human rights violations in and outside of the workplace.

Throughout 2021, strikes and campaigns for unions spread fervently across the U.S. If 2021 taught workers anything, it’s that the owners and regulators of production will continue to betray them as long as profit-making and the exploitation it necessitates remains foundational to economic production. The confluence of late capitalism and COVID-19 has magnified issues already well on their way, chiefly the hyper-exploitation of blue collar “essential workers”, the gig economy labor force and undocumented workers without legal protection by mega corporations that cashed in on the pandemic.

Corporate profiteers and their allies in government know they’re in violation of the rights inherent to all humans and workers. The rights owed to workers are unrecognizable in today’s workforce. The ongoing, systemic and far-reaching violations of workers’ rights attests to the foundational role of class oppression in most human rights violations. It brings to the forefront the struggle for collective liberation of all poor and working people and the importance of building a stronger and more unified labor force capable of transforming class relations in the U.S.

This section analyzes case studies of present-day labor struggles and the movement to advance workers’ human rights in the United States: 

Violations of international human rights law

Violations of the Universal Declaration of Human RightsViolations of international human rights treaties

Identified articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights violated by the United States Federal Government:

  • Article 1: that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights
  • Article 2: that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, class or gender
  • Article 3: that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security
  • Article 5: that no one should be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • Article 6: that everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law
  • Article 7: that all are equal before the law and entitled without discrimination to equal protection of the law
  • Article 10: that everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing in the determination of their civil rights and obligations
  • Article 12: that no one should be subject to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence
  • Article 16: that everyone has the right to found a family, and that the family is the most fundamental unit of society that is entitled to protection by the state
  • Article 22: that everyone has the right to social security and the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable to their dignity and the full realization of their human development
  • Article 23: that everyone has the right to employment, equal pay and economic conditions sufficient for a dignified existence
  • Article 24: that everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including the reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay
  • Article 25: that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of themselves and their families, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, social services and security in case of loss of livelihood caused by circumstances out of their control
  • Article 29: that everyone is subject to limitations determined by law only for the purposes of securing due recognition and respect for the equal rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the right requirements of morality, public order and general welfare

Identified core international human rights treaties violated by the United States Federal Government:

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights elaborates further on the civil and political rights and freedoms listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The treaty requires states to the promotion of equal access to civil and political rights without distinction of any kind, such as class.
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights establishes a universal framework for the protection and preservation of the most basic economic, social and cultural rights inherent to all human beings, including the right to work in just and favorable conditions, to social protection, to an adequate standard of living and to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health. The United States has not ratified this treaty.
  • International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families establishes a universal framework of minimal standards for protecting the rights of migrant workers and their families, with a focus on eliminating the exploitation of workers in the migration process that comprise a large portion of the United States’ informal and “gig economy.” The treaty has been signed and ratified by a number states, most in the Global South, the United States not being one of them.

Featured articles

Source: Katelyn Petrin (St. Louis Public Radio)

Labor organizing in the U.S. in 2022: confronting the anti-union, anti-worker corporate agenda

By Maya Hernández (National Co-Coordinator)

“This past year in labor set a concerning precedent for the future of workers across the country. The union-busting and structural policy changes that have taken place are on track to pressure unions to prioritize the interests of their employers over the rights of workers. The power of corporations over working people is being cemented into policy as we speak to further promote the exploitation of workers and obstruction of unionizing efforts. Our only way out is for workers to gear up for the fight of their lives to push back against these building blocks of corporate interest.” (Read more)

This chapter is part of a series in AFGJ’s Human Rights in the United States: 2023 Report

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