U.S. Ranks Alongside Indonesia And Thailand On Workers’ Rights

Wisconsin’s crackdown on state worker rights in 2011 drew massive protests but was ultimately successful. CREDIT: AP
Wisconsin’s crackdown on state worker rights in 2011 drew massive protests but was ultimately successful. CREDIT: AP

The United States ranks in the bottom half of the world when it comes to labor rights, according to a new global comparison from an international labor coalition that represents 176 million workers from 161 different nations.

The U.S. scores a four on the International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) five-point scale, joining countries like Bahrain, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Thailand where the ITUC finds “systematic violations” of worker rights. Category one countries do the best job of protecting workers’ rights, and category five countries do the worst. (Countries where open violent conflict leaves workers completely adrift score a five or higher.) The categorization is based on a 97-point evaluation of the state of labor rights in various countries. The criteria range from fundamental civil liberties, like the ability to strike or to protest labor conditions without being murdered, to collective bargaining rights, the right to strike, and the free exercise of union rights.

The ITUC distinguished between “violations in law,” meaning legislative failures to protect workers, and “violations in practice,” meaning actual actions against workers. ITUC analysts sifted through reports of rights violations in a database that was created over 30 years ago and scored each country.

This is the state of labor rights around the world:

CREDIT: International Trade Union Confederation

“Workers in countries with the rating of 4 have reported systematic violations,” according to the report’s definition of the category that includes the U.S. “The government and/or companies are engaged in serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers putting fundamental rights under continuous threat.” The category means that U.S. workers experienced between 27 and 35 of the 97 separate rights violations the group tracked. The only country in North or Central America to fall into a worse category was Guatemala.

The report follows years of work to undermine labor rights in statehouses around the country. As the Economic Policy Institute has documented, more than a dozen states have put restrictions on collective bargaining for public employees over the past three years. Another 19 states have taken up so-called “right-to-work” laws in that period that erode benefits and wages for all workers by undermining unions.

But American labor rights and union strength have been waning for decades. The decline in union membership rates over the past 30 years corresponds to the disappearance of the middle class and the explosion of economic inequality in the country. Economists have found that the middle class does better where unionization rates are higher, and that the strength of the middle class is the key determiner of the broader economy’s growth or stagnation.