Labour Views column for December 10, 2014

Submitted by Mary Lou Cherwaty, President of the Northern Territories Federation of Labour

The United Nations General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948. The Declaration forms a basis for human rights all over the world.  It represents a significant change of direction from the events of World War II and the continuing colonialism that prevailed at that time.  Today, the Declaration is available in more than 360 languages, and is recognized as the most translated document in modern history.

While not a public holiday, December 10 is observed around the world as Human Rights Day.  It is a time for all of us to reflect on the meaning, importance, and the need for human rights.

For workers, Article 23 of the Declaration is of utmost importance:

  • Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself/herself and family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of their interests.

These are four basic rights: the right to work, the right to equal pay, the right to dignity in the workplace, and the right to join a union.

Unfortunately, even here in Canada, these rights are constantly under attack. They are under attack by the global corporate world, by right-wing think tanks, and sadly, by our very own governments.

Over the past few years, we have watched thousands of people around the globe and here at home decide to claim back their rights. They have taken to the streets in protest, set up occupy movements in hundreds of cities, and are demanding change. They are using the internet and instant messaging to inform, inspire and mobilize supporters to fight for their basic human rights. Social media has produced a whole new wave of activism.  Through the transforming power of social media, ordinary people have become human rights activists. They remind us that we are the 99%.  Collectively we can take back our rightful place in the world and stop the oppression of government and corporate greed.

The Human Rights Act of the Northwest Territories is ten years old this year, and our government is undertaking an extensive review of the document and processes. It is important that we provide input to ensure that our individual and collective rights remain firmly entrenched in this document; and that we build on protecting the most marginalized in our communities.

I want to thank each and every one of you who has taken the time to stand up for our rights, and encourage you to keep up the fight.

Remember that human rights are something that should be fought for every day of the year!