World Day for Decent Work is commemorated each year by millions of working people around the world. Today on farms and in factories – in cities and small villages – people who work hard every day mobilize for good jobs, basic rights, and social protection in their societies. Decent work gives dignity to people’s lives, and it underpins more broadly shared prosperity in the global economy. As Special Representative for International Labor Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, I work to strengthen respect for worker rights, improve workplace conditions, contribute to sustainable livelihoods, and engage with workers and their organizations across the world.
This week in the Dominican Republic at the Ministerial meeting of the Pathways for Prosperity program, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed the importance of global economic growth, but noted: “I don’t want us ever to forget that growth is not the end in and of itself. It is to lift millions of people, to improve their lives, to give their children better futures…My question is: Will that growth include more and more people? Will that prosperity reach down into the middle class and the poor? Will more families realize their own dreams?”
In that spirit, on this World Day for Decent Work, we are convening the first meeting of the Labor Working Group of Secretary Clinton’s Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society. The working group consists of leaders from worker organizations, NGOs, the International Labor Organization, and some of the world’s leading experts on the crucial issues facing workers across the world. Over the next year, the group will offer policy recommendations for better incorporating the concerns of working people in U.S. foreign policy, including advice on promoting equality of opportunity and economic inclusion for young people, women, vulnerable workers, migrants, and the hundreds of millions of people working in the informal economy in countries across the world.
This year’s World Day of Decent Work comes as millions of workers worldwide continue to face enormous challenges of finding employment and decent work. We hope that our discussions with civil society and our broader initiatives to promote labor diplomacy and worker rights can make substantive contributions to improving the lives of working families everywhere.
Families across the United States are gathering together to celebrate Labor Day this weekend – a time honored tradition that we’ve set aside for over a century – to remember the contributions of workers.
The cookouts, parades, and end of summer rituals are unique ways that we celebrate this very American holiday. But the recognition of working people – be it in May or September – through a holiday and tradition devoted to no particular gender, individual, battle, group, or saint is also unique. It is a holiday we all share.
It has only been six months since the world witnessed the remarkable transformations taking place in the Middle East. The self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, who was concerned about not being able to feed his family, has resonated with workers everywhere. Workers, in countries as different from one another as one could imagine, are speaking up for decent wages, social justice and a political and economic voice in their daily lives. Clearly, dignity at work is a universal aspiration.
And as the financial crisis of the last three years has shown, the stability of global economy still poses enormous challenges. An economic crisis in one country can be felt on factory floors half a world away. Much of the world is still experiencing continuing high employment, lack of jobs for young people, discrimination towards women and growing disenfranchisement among migrant workers and refugees.
As workers take advantage of greater political space and start to speak up for better wages, equality, job stability, and the right to form their own independent organizations – our labor office at the State Department will support the “voice of the street” and work to strengthen respect for labor rights as human rights in our policies and programs.
Secretary Clinton captured this focus perfectly in her speech on Development in the 21st Century when she said
We cannot build a stable, global economy when hundreds of millions of workers and families find themselves on the wrong side of globalization, cut off from markets and out of reach of modern technologies… And we cannot advance democracy and human rights when hunger and poverty threaten to undermine the good governance and rule of law needed to make those rights real.
This is why our efforts to promote labor diplomacy are focused on ensuring that the global economy is working for everyone. This includes advocating for dignity at work and recognizing that honest labor, fairly compensated, gives meaning and structure to people’s lives and enables every family and all children to rise as far as their talents will take them.
Honoring our values – working to end to discrimination, an end to forced and child labor, and recognizing the right of people to organize and bargain in a civil and peaceful way. These are not just labor rights, they are human rights.
Today — to each and every one of you and to your families on labor day, I wish you the best as we work towards a more prosperous and peaceful world.