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Workers’ Rights Are Human Rights? Diversifying Labor Strategies in a Changing World

220 Eggers Hall, the Strasser Legacy Room

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Labor scholars are divided on the issue of whether a human rights approach to workers’ struggles is in the best interests of labor or not. Those who disagree with this approach claim, among other things, that a human rights approach favors individual autonomy over collective solidarity and relies on elite-driven judicial strategies rather than “class-based, grassroots, fight-back strategies,” in the words of one skeptic. “Labor rights are human rights” proponents think that this approach holds out the best hope for workers in the era of neoliberal globalization and the growing irrelevance of citizenship-based rights in the context of both transnational capital and transnational labor. Away from the talking heads, workers’ campaigns on the ground, particularly among marginalized workers in the Global South and right-to-work U.S. states, as well as transnational labor migrants – all of whom lack basic labor rights and have limited access to collective bargaining opportunities – are choosing to embrace human rights-based approaches that combine social-movement unionism with instrumental appeals to transnational labor solidarity and universal human rights. In this forum, we ask the speakers to address three questions (and/or any others they may deem particularly relevant):
In what ways might human rights approaches both subvert traditional labor solidarities AND create new ones?
In what ways does market-driven globalization both subvert domestic labor rights and create opportunities for new forms of labor struggle and solidarity?
(How) do race, gender and other identities change debates around the relationship between labor and human rights?

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