The (Communist) Empire Strikes Back on Human Rights

In an ironic twist China has decided to try and give the U.S. Government a taste of its own medicine. Mimicking the annual State Department Report on Human Rights, the PRC has issued its own report on the human rights record of the United States. The URL is below. What is interesting in this report is what the Chinese state ignores: namely, labor rights. Almost completely absent from the report is any suggestion that there are any problems at all for American workers on the job. In passing, the report cites a problem of discrimination on the job for American women workers. Other than that, the report is silent.

Yet, after a twenty five year assault on unions in this country – kicked off in the Reagan Administration by the wholesale dismissal of striking air traffic controllers – certainly a reasonable place to start a discussion on human rights in America could be with a discussion of labor rights. For example, Lance Compa of Cornell University recently authored a report on the widespread denial of basic human rights to workers in the meatpacking industry. The report, entitled Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants, was published by Human Rights Watch and the URL is below also.

The Human Rights Watch study points out: “Health and safety laws and regulations fail to address critical hazards in the meat and poultry industry. Laws and agencies that are supposed to protect workers’ freedom of association are instead manipulated by employers to frustrate worker organizing. Federal laws and policies on immigrant workers are a mass of contradictions and incentives to violate their rights. In sum, the United States is failing to meet its obligations under international human rights standards to protect the human rights of meat and poultry industry workers.”

When there are such widespread violations of human rights of workers in the United States, about which one would think a “socialist” country like China would be very concerned, why would they pick workers’ rights, alone, to ignore?

The answer, of course, is pretty simple: China hopes to avoid the spotlight that should be shone on its own widespread abuse of worker rights….including forbidding strikes, preventing workers from exercising their freedom of association, jailing worker activists and denying basic due process to workers who attempt to defend their standards of living. In fact, of course, despite the hostility to unions from employers and the government in this country, the conditions faced by Chinese workers are far worse and deserve much greater scrutiny from the international community than has been the case to date.