New York: Conference on the Human Right to Organize

Press release | 16 May 2011

ACTRAV INFO: You participated this month in the launch of a new initiative in New York to give voice and representation to excluded workers in the US. Is this a new movement in the making?

Claire Hobden: In May, the U.S. based Excluded Worker Congress held its 2011 Conference on the Human Right to Organize, which took place in New York. The Excluded Worker Congress is a national alliance of nine sectors of excluded workers that came together around a common dream to vastly expand the human right to organize in the United States, to win a new era of rights and policies for workers, and to transform the US labour movement. The nine sectors of the Excluded Workers Congress (EWC) include domestic workers, farm workers, taxi drivers, restaurant workers, day labourers, guestworkers, workers from Southern right-to-work states (which bar public employees from the right to bargain collectively), workfare workers, and formerly incarcerated workers.

The Conference itself was a historic gathering of workers who have been excluded from labour legislation either de facto or de jure. Some workers, such as domestic workers and farm workers, are explicitly excluded from the right to organize under the National Labour Relations Act. Others, such as guest workers who are brought into the country under an employer sponsored temporary work visa, are excluded from labour protections through practice due to a lack of enforcement or because of their precarious economic and legal status that makes them particularly vulnerable to employer retaliation if they attempt to claim even their guaranteed rights.

The aim of the conference was to build and strengthen an international movement of excluded workers to defend and extend the right to organize and bargain collectively, exchange and share organizing strategies, and identify a way forward to work together on an international scale. To this end, the programme included specific workshops on new models of collective bargaining, international legal strategies, developing solidarity campaigns across borders, and multi-national network building. With a recognition that such precarious work arrangements exist around the world, the Conference also included organizers from countries across the globe to share conditions and strategies to expand the right to organize, and to identify opportunities for collaboration and movement building.

ACTRAV INFO: What are some of the outcomes of the Conference, and why are these important to the labour movement at large?

Claire Hobden: The Conference yielded some exciting outcomes for workers nationally and internationally. Most notably was the signing of new partnership agreements between the AFL-CIO and two alliances included in the EWC, namely the National Domestic Worker Alliance (NDWA) and the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA). The Conference in fact started with a powerful opening session during which Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, publicly signed the new agreements with leaders of the two alliances. The agreements represent an innovative approach on the part of a trade union to organize some of the most marginal workers, and are part of the AFL-CIO's continued outreach to excluded workers who work in professions that are often not afforded fundamental labour rights and safety protections under the law. The partnership agreements authorize the worker centres to affiliate with state federations and central labour councils. In 2006 the AFL-CIO already signed a similar agreement with workers' centres, partnering with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

Although the language of exclusion is not typically used in other parts of the world, much of the topic discussed relates closely to what is known internationally as precarious work. Throughout the Conference, links were made between the exclusions from the right to organize and bargain collectively, and the condition of precarious work arrangements and the legal frameworks that allow such arrangements. The work of the EWC and the initiative of the AFL-CIO in partnering with the EWC provide an innovative approach to fighting precarious work and building trade union strength. The efforts of the AFL-CIO and the EWC will also be integrated into the programme of the 2011 ACTRAV Symposium: From Precarious Work to Decent Work: A case for Policies and Regulations.

For more information, contact:

Claire Hobden
Specialist in workers’activities
Tél : 022 799 6425
Email :hobden[at]ilo[dot]org