Human rights is a Worker's Fight!
It's 1901 in a brand new Australia. Workers have few rights and employers are interested in little more than the bottom line. The Harvester Judgement establishing a basic wage is still six years away, invalid and aged pensions seven, and maternity allowances eleven. The law is firmly on the side of the employer, the Australian Labor Party, (ALP) is a grassroots organisation dedicated to fighting for the workers and the trade unions had a large member base.
How times have changed. The ALP has lost its left to the Greens and it's right to the Liberals, (our conservatives). How did the Liberals, the representatives of the elite and the religious right, gain such a following among the working class? How also did the Greens, once thought of as the party of loons, steal away much of the young educated left formerly destined for the Labor Party?
The Australian Labor movement and, I suspect, the Democratic movement in the United States, has been a victim of its successes. This, combined with a new type of conservatism amongst the progressives, (a kind of prideful wistfulness about the great progressives of the past), has left us with a generation of politicians fighting the great fights of the fifties.
Except it's not the fifties and the Labor movement is in the ring boxing with shadows, watched by an army of bemused voters to the consternation of the 'True Believers'. The battles they are waging have long since been won: minimum wage, holidays, sick days, union rights, maternity leave, paternity leave, penalty rates, superannuation, tax exemptions, pensions, worker's compensation, unfair dismissal and equal opportunity have all hills that have been conquered. While these are achievements worth bragging about, they leave precious little room for new political wars to be waged, at least where the majority of workers are concerned. There are certainly other issues, (especially in regards to minority rights and indigenous rights), where the center left should raise some very loud voices, but these issues aren't enough to retain a base that includes a large number of the working class.
By contrast, the Liberals and the Greens are very clear on where and for whom they stand. The Liberals stand for the elites, for big money, big religion and small government. The Greens are for the environment, for huge government and for human rights. And the ALP? Well they've lately been for all of these things - 'lite'.
Taxing the mining companies, (yet making next to nothing), pricing carbon, (thereby blatantly breaking an election promise), expanding the role of religion in schools, (selling out public schools) while all the time ignoring the workers in the country have resulted in those same workers choosing to vote conservative.
The ALP needs an opponent and they desperately need a fight. However, if they ever want the workers of Australia to rally behind them again, it's time they started fighting the right fight and the right fight is human rights abroad.
The nationalistic catch cry of 'looking after your own' serves conservatives well because it translates to lower prices and a diversity of consumer products. Low prices have become the norm in the USA and are even expected here in Australia, despite the traditional geographic challenges importers face when shipping to this country.
However, when one considers that these low prices are a result of the multinational companies denying basic worker's rights abroad, a few predictions can be made. Firstly, fewer and fewer unskilled jobs will be available in any western nation as multi-nationals continue to manufacture in places where the Labor movement is non-existent. Next, as the Labor movements in countries like Australia and the United States continue to swing away at the margins, the conservative movements will argue that in order to compete with China and India, some of the more 'extravagant' labour rights will have to go by the wayside. This process has already started in Australia. Here, public holiday pay is under attack with the suggestion that small businesses are struggling to compete.
Here's the hard truth
The conservatives are right. From their point of view, some things will need to give if we're to compete in the future with countries that simply don't respect the established rights of workers and who will not allow labour movements to form to fight for said rights. Challenging other nations on their human rights and thereby potentially raising prices at home would anger big business, denying them valuable political patronage.
No, this fight is for the ALP and the Democrats. Human rights should not be allowed to be presented solely as an issue for the left. It should be made clear that the fight for human rights abroad is a fight for the workers at home. If human and worker's rights were universal in developing countries, the playing field would be levelled and enterprise would be the measure of a nation's industry.
The ALP and the Democrats should be both demanding that developing countries develop their worker's rights along with their armies and bankbooks and providing moral and financial encouragement for fledgling and often illegal labour movements.
This fight will be a long fight, a knock down dirty working man's rumble.
But it needs leadership and as long as the ALP continues to nibble at the edges of their cause and the conservatives continue to sponsor jobs overseas while putting cash in the pockets of the middle class, either jobs or rights will evaporate.
So I beg the labour movement in all progressive nations: fight this battle while the developing nations must listen, continue to demand that people pay higher prices for their goods, (and face continual political annihilation), or be prepared to start again from scratch.