NESRI Statement: Why Attacking the Human Rights of Public Sector Workers Threatens Human Rights in the United States

An Attack on All of Us: Governor Walker in Wisconsin has targeted basic human rights in a political game to re-direct frustration and anger about brutal economic policy decisions towards public sector workers.  The most obvious attack has been against the right to bargain collectively.  This right is so fundamental that it made it on to the very short list of four core principals in the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principals and Rights at Work.  The United States has embraced this Declaration as representing the most important labor rights for people everywhere, including here at home. 

Attacking public sector workers is a grave threat to human rights for all of us. 

  • If a Governor of any State in the Union can threaten with impunity the basic rights of workers that the government directly employs, what does that do to government accountability for protecting the human rights of private sector workers, low wage workers, and workers in the informal economy? 
  • If we don’t recognize that attacks on public sector workers are in fact attacks on public responsibility, the notion of the public good, and the ability of government to secure economic and social rights for all people, how are we to protect ourselves from the onslaught of corporate interests that seek to privatize the public sector, and profit from the vacuum that reducing or destroying the public workforce will create?
  • If we don’t make common cause with the human rights struggles of public sector workers, how can we reclaim our country as one shaped by ideals of the common good and collective responsibility for protecting the dignity of every member of our society?

Wisconsin does not represent an isolated struggle or a budget dispute.  It represents a pitched battle for what kind of direction we as a country will choose in the face of severe economic challenges arising from reckless policies that fueled rising inequality and predatory corporate practices, particularly in finance and banking. 

We, at the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative express our solidarity with the public sector workers of Wisconsin.  We believe they are engaged in an effort to keep the United States committed to its basic ideals of freedom, equality, and dignity for all members of society. 

Finally, we urge all community and advocacy organizations concerned with social justice to send a strong message to Governor Walker that we as a human rights community stand behind the public sector workers of Wisconsin and that unless he wants to be on the wrong side of history, he must too.