Unions Take on China
The AFL-CIO feels betrayed by President Clinton. Within weeks after the 13-million-member labor federation enthusiastically endorsed the presidential candidacy of Vice President Al Gore, Mr. Clinton's hand-picked, designated successor, the Clinton administration signed an agreement with communist China that will pave the way for China to become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the international body that writes the rules for trade and adjudicates disputes between its members.
Admitting China, a notorious abuser of labor rights, to the WTO is anathema to the AFL-CIO. The federation feels particularly bitter over this development because only last January, in his State of the Union message, Mr. Clinton promised that the United States would work to "put a human face on the global economy." Thus, the AFL-CIO has committed itself to convincing a majority of House members to reject the agreement.
China's reprehensible labor policies clearly violate the norms of acceptable international behavior. The AFL-CIO is right to be repulsed. But the place to hold China accountable for its despicable behavior is not the WTO, where the AFL-CIO's complaints are viewed throughout the developing world as a blatantly protectionist gambit designed to thwart the comparative advantage lower wages offer emerging markets.
The place to deal with China's abhorrent labor record is the International Labor Organization (ILO), a U.N.-affiliated agency that specifically addresses the rights of workers. The ILO is a tripartite organization that allocates membership to governments, labor and management; the latter two are ostensibly independent from government -though that is clearly not the case with China's totalitarian system. It is even more disgraceful that China holds one of the 10 government seats reserved on the ILO's executive council for "states of chief industrial importance."
In June 1998, the ILO adopted the Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which obliged its members to observe four basic principles underlying a larger set of core labor standards. These principles were: freedom of association and the effective right to collective bargaining; the abolition of forced labor; the abolition of child labor; and the abolition of employment discrimination. …