Introduction to Labor and Working Conditions

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Introduction to Labor and Working Conditions

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23, asserts that all persons have a right to work. Persons have the right to choose a field of employment, to receive fair and just compensation for their services, and to work in safe conditions. All laborers within an organization have the right to equal pay for equal work. The Universal Declaration further proclaims that workers have a right to organize into representative trade unions.

Throughout the world, all principals of Article 23 have yet to be realized. Sweatshops are as common now as they were at the turn of twentieth century, though almost all are now located in developing nations. Inhumane working conditions and low pay are all too common. Many workers are denied the right to organize, curtailing their ability to protest unfair wage and working conditions. Child labor (also addressed in Children and Education) continues in many parts of the word, despite being outlawed a century ago in Britain and the United States.

The factory is not the only venue of work prone to human rights abuses. Agricultural workers across the globe work long hours at physically demanding jobs for low pay. Even in the most developed nations, agricultural workers—many of whom are migrant workers or recent immigrants—enjoy a fraction of the legal protections offered to factory laborers.

Labor is also used as a form of punishment. "How Ireland Hid its Own Dirty Laundry" tells the story of Ireland's infamous Magdalene Laundries. The sweatshop laundries, most often run by the local Catholic Church, were staffed by prostitutes and young women who had given birth out of wedlock. Girls were often abandoned by their families to the care of the "asylums" and forced into silent, grueling labor. Another article included here discusses prison labor in Russian gulags. Forced labor or prison labor as a means of punishment, especially in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is further addressed in the chapter Imprisonment.

Also included in this chapter are two articles on working conditions in the military. One article discusses the refusal to participate in military operations on the basis of conscious objection; another looks at the U.S. military's "stop-loss" policy issued in 2005. These two sources illustrate the most common exceptions to voluntary military service in the United States—the first through the draft of potential soldiers and the second by extending service obligations of current soldiers.

Finally, the article "Solidarity's First Congress" presents a compelling look at the potential political and social influence of trade unions. Solidarity led Poland's nationalist, pro-democracy reform movement in the 1980s and 1990s. The trade-union-turned-political-party sped the collapse of the Iron Curtain (the Soviet Union's network of communist satellite nations in Eastern Europe) and led the first democratic, independent Polish government in the post-Soviet era.

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Introduction to Labor and Working Conditions

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Introduction to Labor and Working Conditions