Monday, December 10, is International Human Rights Day, and we here in the United States have plenty to worry about. Though we join other nations in marking the 64th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations’ International Declaration of Human Rights, we also have plenty of our residents living without those basic human rights we committed to with so many others around the world back in 1948.
Come on, now, say you. Surely we provide for our own in the areas of human rights, don’t we?
Just to remind myself how far we have and have not come, I generally look at the International Declaration of Human Rights signed so long ago and ponder about why we would ever want to make ourselves more distant from these rights. The ones that always call to me are as follows:
- (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
- (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
- (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
- (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
- Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
- (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
- (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
Is it a sign of some sort that I laugh when I read some sections of this and cry when I read others? How many Americans really have any rights whatsoever to times of rest and leisure, vacation, or limits on working hours or employers who honor holidays in any way? It is often some sort of badge of courage for employers to see just how far they can push their employees against any legal limits in the United States, and vacations and holidays are less available to many working Americans now than ever.
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In terms of wages paid, I saw a great comment by comedian Chris Rock who noted that employers who pay minimum wages are simply saying that if they could they would pay you even less, but the law prevents that. How true on so many fronts for working class Americans in 2012. How many of us are reminded quite openly of how grateful we ought be for having the employment we have no matter the conditions, pay or benefits? So many, we’re told, have less. That’s the state of human rights for working Americans.
Or Article 23 (4)? I’ll bet the trade unionists in Michigan today are pretty certain their elected officials in Lansing don’t ascribe to their rights to unionize for the protection of their interests. Shoot, if the right-to-workers could have they probably would have repealed the U.N. Declaration right there in the Michigan Senate chambers with the doors closed and locked. We had limited news reports about the pepper spraying on Michigan protestors, while at the same time reacting with fury to concerns about the Syrian situation and potential use of chemical weapons there. I suppose we’d argue it’s the severity of the whole thing that makes it different, eh?
And need I write much about the status of healthcare for most Americans? Tens of thousands perish every year in America simply because they don’t have the cash or insurance benefits to access care, and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) won’t stop that. For-profit, private, health insurance is not health care. Health insurance is a financial product sold to protect health and wealth which may do neither thing very well at all. But that’s what we’ll be buying – health insurance. Many would argue we were closer in 1948 to achieving healthcare as a human right than we are today in America. Many would argue we understood that a single standard of high quality care for all delivered without financial barrier under a Medicare for all for life system was the ideal, and many would say even Harry Truman or Dwight Eisenhower or John Kennedy or even Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were closer to that than we are today. We can skip the rest as we know where this goes, don’t we? More dead Americans. We didn’t actually believe Article 25 (1). We sure signed it though. And don’t get me started on Article 25(2). Or Article 26.
In any case, some of us are not going to sit still while Congress or anyone else whittles away the rights we’ve been fighting to achieve since well before December 10, 1948. On Monday, a number of us will be joining in vigils all over the country to call attention to the need for more revenue to protect and enhance the social safety net through a Robin Hood Tax (a small tax on Wall Street’s financial transactions as outlined in HR6411, The Inclusive Prosperity Act) -- not to crush it under the weight of the fiscal cliff talk and political wrangling. Join us. Click on this link to find an action near you. Declare your human rights. Together we can stand up.