Workers' rights are human rights, Machinists Union vice president says

Working people everywhere have basic human rights, a senior Machinists Union leader said. That includes the right to join a union and bargain for fair pay.

EVERETT – Workers’ rights are at the heart of basic human rights, one of the top officers of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers said.

“The right to collectively bargain is a human right,” declared Gary Allen, who is the general vice president for the Machinists Union’s Western Territories. “The right to stand together, to protect ourselves and our loved ones against an inadequate and degrading lifestyle.”

Allen was one of the keynote speakers at the Snohomish County Human Rights Commission’s observance of International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. More than 100 human rights activists from around Puget Sound attended, including some 40 members of Machinists Union District Lodge 751 and Machinists Union District Lodge 160.

The event marked the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly approved a global declaration of human rights. The declaration came in response to the genocide and humanitarian disasters of World War II – and the global recession that preceded the war — and was written in large part by Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and the U.S. delegate to the UN in those years.

Article 23 of the declaration spells out the rights of workers around the world:

  • Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment;
  • Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work;
  • Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable pay, ensuring for themselves and their family an “existence worthy of human dignity;” and
  • Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions.


“That language is pretty clear,” Allen said. “And it’s pretty clear that it is being ignored, even in the U.S.”

Allen criticized free trade agreements like NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) for provisions that block the Declaration of Human Rights from being enforced.

That’s wrong, Allen said.

“No business or financial transaction is bigger than the protection of human life,” he said. “We cannot allow such atrocities as forced labor, child labor, any form of discrimination and unsafe working conditions to stand unchallenged.”

Allen said Congress needs to do more to end wage discrimination against women, who on average earn only 78 percent of what men are paid for the same work. And he blasted the Republicans in the U.S. Senate, who in December blocked ratification of a United Nations treaty on the rights of disabled people – even though it was based on the Americans With Disabilities Act and wouldn’t have changed American law.

Allen said the Machinists Union is doing its part to improve protection of human rights, in part by taking a lead role in the development of Council FIRE, a group to represent the interests of Native Americans within the labor movement.

Native Americans were “first on this soil, but last in the American Dream,” he said.

IAM Grand Lodge Rep Kevin Cummings, who is based in Seattle, is one of the leaders of the effort to address that wrong, Allen said.“Labor has always stood at the forefront of issues like this, and we will not rest until this initiative is fully realized,” he said.

Allen spoke out against recent efforts to limit voting rights, particularly among minorities. “There are those who still believe that voting is a privilege for those of a select class, and not the right of every U.S. citizen.”

And he praised Washington’s voters for legalizing same-sex marriage, and extending that basic human right to gay and lesbian couples. “It is my hope that your example will be followed by other states,” Allen said.

Allen said he’s encouraged by things like the vote for same-sex marriage, and the re-election of President Obama. Ordinary people are “standing up and standing together,” he said.

“We have to take this nation in the direction we want it to go,” Allen said. “Nobody is going to do it for us.”

Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at the Boeing Co., District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents more than 33,000 working men and women at 48 employers across Washington, Oregon and California. District 751 is part of the IAM’s Western Territories, which is the largest and most-diverse geographical unit within the union.

To learn more about District 751, read the Machinists News.

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Brian Soergel December 12, 2012 at 03:12 AM
From Edmonds Patch Facebook user Brad Thompsen: As a self employed indepent contractor, reading that article is like reading a foreign set of beliefs. Like the founding fathers of this country, I go out into the free market every day and create value and am paid for creating value in a free economy. I know lots of people want to go to a place and work for someone or something else that creates the value and takes the daily risks of reward and loss in the market, but I cannot understand how expecting someone else to create your opportunity to recieve money is a human right. Our human rights are to be free. I just don't understand how having someone else pay me if I show up and trade my efforts so they can make a profit in the market, can somehow be equated with the right to live free of tyranny, oppression and slavery. I wish them well in their efforts to have their opportunities in our market, but I do not understand it on a basic human level.
Bob Wilke December 12, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Thank you Brian Soergel for your spot on comments regarding unions and rights. Workers DO have the right to join a union, just as they should have right NOT to join a union. If the union offers benefits that the workers find of value, they will want to join the union. But unions have become fund raisers for political causes and the union members have no choice as to where the political contributions are sent to. Michigan realized this fact and like many other states is providing workers the choice - join or not join a union. That is freedom of choice which is what our country was built on.
Brian Soergel December 12, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Hey Bob: That was actually posted by someone else on Facebook. Thanks for writing.
Donald Williams December 13, 2012 at 01:46 AM
One Labor leader that most unions revere, Jeffrey Immelt, GE...Jeffrey Immelt, Head of Obama’s Jobs Council: ‘State-Run Communism ’ Actually ‘Works’ http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2012/12/obama-jobs-council-chairman-jeffrey-immelt-state-run-communist-china-works-video/ ...Enjoy it Union Comrades...Stalin called them 'Useful Idiots'..there is a video ☭☭☭☭☭☭☭☭
employee December 17, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Many years ago i worked for a group of guys that owned a non-union tool and die shop, almost unheared of in my mid western home state. All of thier competition came from the big automakers, but were still able to manage a good amount of business, even in that environment. Their secret? These guys treated the employees with respect, provided living wages, opportunity to move up, healthcare and actually gave a damn about the folks that worked for them. Every time i hear someone that owns a buiness complain, I ask what are you doing to provide an alternative?


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