Human Rights, Labor Rights, and International Trade

By Lance A. Compa; Stephen F. Diamond | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Labor Rights and Human Rights A Historical Perspective

David Montgomery

This volume considers the role of international action and of national and international law in defining and enforcing the human rights of working people in today's world. New features of the global economy, which have emerged during the past twenty-five years, have undermined working conditions, economic standards, and collective rights that workers in the industrialized portions of the globe had come to enjoy over the course of this century. These new features have also placed the question of workers' rights and patterns of economic and social change in developing countries at the top of history's agenda of new business. At the same time, they have opened some noteworthy possibilities for international action to improve the conditions and liberties of working people. The purpose of this volume is to discuss the potential contributions of national and international law, effective forms of social action, and perhaps most relevant of all, the ways in which improved laws can encourage social action on behalf of human rights in the present worldwide version of what R. H. Tawney called "the acquisitive society."

The nation-state provided industrializing societies with the coercive authority that not only established the framework for commercial activity but also defined and enforced whatever social and economic rights of working people were recognized under the law. Over the course of the twentienth century the rights of citizenship in highly industrialized countries came to include entitlements to specified minimal standards of social welfare, and protection for forms of collective action, which were granted to wage earners and their families in exchange for loyalty to the nation-state. Elsewhere in the world struggles for national independence shaped both the destinies of workers' movements and the

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