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.
When Eleanor Roosevelt presented the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the UN General Assembly, she proclaimed: “We stand today at the threshold of a great event, both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind.” On December 10, 1948, the world moved to recognize and protect the equal and inalienable rights of all people, inspiring individuals around the globe to claim the rights that are our common heritage.
I witness small and large acts of courage every day in every part of the world. Liu Xiaobo, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, helped author Charter ’08 calling for peaceful political reform in China and lost his freedom for the cause. On this Human Rights Day, I reiterate our call for his immediate release. Elsewhere, the group Damas de Blanco has faced harassment and intimidation while advocating for the release of political prisoners, focusing international attention on Cuba’s poor human rights record. Magodonga Mahlangu and her organization, Women of Zimbabwe Arise, suffer arrests and abuse as they continue working to empower women to mobilize and take non-violent action against injustice. Citizen heroes from all walks of life draw strength and hope from the promise that every country in the world has made in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The work of these activists to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person,” and their courage to persist is a testament to all that is good in the human spirit.
Sixty-two years after Eleanor Roosevelt laid out those clear, inviolate principles, we again stand upon a threshold as the need to support and defend civil society has taken on renewed urgency. A vibrant civil society is an essential component of free nations, yet many governments continue to employ intimidation, questionable legal practices, restrictions, detention, and willful ignorance to silence the voices of those who defend human rights. The United States is committed to promoting and defending civil society around the world. And we will continue to remind leaders of their responsibilities to their citizens under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To support this, I have asked our embassies to open their doors to civil society activists today to listen to their concerns and demonstrate our support.
The Declaration has long served as a beacon to those seeking the protection of fundamental, internationally recognized rights and liberties. Today, and every day, the United States stands with those committed to making the vision enshrined in the Declaration a reality for all people. We call on every nation to join us in working to fulfill the Declaration’s promise, at home and abroad.
On December 10, 2009, International Human Rights Day, President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech, President Obama acknowledged existing threats to global peace and the work that must be done to strengthen diplomacy and advance the human condition. The President directly addressed United States involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and maintained that engaging in war does not indicate a lack of dedication to peace. However, the President noted, the use of force is not an invitation to lawlessness. President Obama emphasized the importance of the laws that govern the use of force and insisted that those who violate these international standards be held accountable. Finally, the President argued that while sometimes necessary, war alone is never enough to bring peace. He urged the international community to strengthen diplomacy, nation building, and development, and to respect the fundamental dignity of every person. Read his full remarks here.